Zoning loophole creating sprawl Change sought in family exemption used for housing

March 21, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

When it comes to property, family ties have often meant easy money in Anne Arundel County.

A county zoning exemption, written 20 years ago to make it easier for farmers to deed land to their children, has been used by developers to build housing tracts in rural Anne Arundel where they weren't intended.

The exception allows families to subdivide property and build more homes on the land to accommodate relatives than would otherwise be allowed. But county planners say families have often split property into parcels only to quickly sell off the land to developers.

The result, say two County Council members moving to tighten those rules, has been a patchwork of miniature housing developments that, taken together, have swamped schools, roads and other public services in the county's southern reaches.

"This provision has been blatantly exploited," said Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican. "When you start increasing density in areas that weren't planned for growth, then infrastructure starts to suffer."

Since 1976, 942 original parcels have been subdivided under the "family conveyance" provision, most of them in South County.

To close the loophole, Councilman John Klocko, a Crofton Republican, and Mrs. Evans have introduced legislation that would prohibit family members from subdividing property more than once or from selling the subdivided parcels within five years of the subdivision.

Exceptions would be made in cases of "severe financial hardship," a determination left up to the county director of Planning and Code Enforcement.

The measure, which the council is expected to vote on next month, also would require a change of ownership of subdivided family parcels to be recorded within one year or face cancellation of the subdivision. At present, property that is supposed to be deeded to a family member often is not.

In rural areas, development is limited to one home per 20 acres. But the loophole allows families to subdivide a 100-acre tract into as many as 26 lots more than five times the number a developer would be allowed under zoning law. The proposed legislation would also apply to land permitting one home per 5 acres.

"As time goes by the intensity of the problem grows more apparent," said Mr. Klocko, who represents South County.

Planners say southern Anne Arundel, a rolling coastal plain dotted with environmentally sensitive wetlands, has suffered. Davidsonville and Shady Side elementary schools exceed student capacity; once-rural stretches of road are clogged with cars.

Other counties have experienced similar problems. Farmland in Harford County has been purchased by residential developers using the loophole.

"There has been abuse of that privilege," said Daniel E. Rooney, a Harford County planner.

The Anne Arundel legislation comes as planners begin reviewing the General Development Plan, which will guide growth for the next 10 years. Hearings will be held through the spring and summer; the council is expected to vote on the new plan next year.

So far, there has not been any opposition to the legislation, introduced at Monday evening's council meeting. But Mrs. Evans and Mr. Klocko have called on environmental groups to support the bill in case development interests organize to defeat it.

"I think we're going to find people who have had a cozy relationship with this process to state their case against this measure," Mrs. Evans said.

Anne Arundel Trade Council has distributed the bill to two committees, which will meet Wednesday to decide whether to support or oppose the measure.

"We're going to take a hard look at the bill and see what the effects are," said David M. Plott, an attorney and chairman of the Trade Council's legislative affairs committee. "We want to make sure it's fair and reasonable."

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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