Council erred in manner it OK'd new zoning code

Changes, still valid, will affect former hotel

September 28, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Taneytown officials have learned they erroneously approved a change in the city code in August that removes the requirement for downtown businesses to provide off-street parking, said Mayor Henry C. Heine.

Heine said he expects the error to be corrected without incident in the next few months. The error is not in the code, but in the way the change was approved -- without a public hearing.

In the meantime, the changed code is valid, Heine said, and the first people to benefit from it, Keith and Cinda Reed, have approval to lease the first floor of their building, the former Central Hotel, as business space.

Marvin Flickinger, a downtown businessman and government watchdog who owns a barbershop near the hotel, has long protested that the Reeds had to jump through too many hoops to return the building to its original commercial use.

The Reeds asked the Zoning Board of Appeals in June to change the zoning of the first floor of their building from residential to local business after their request was denied by a city zoning administrator. The board upheld the administrator's decision and denied the Reeds' request because they could not specify what kind of business it would house.

City officials also had mentioned that there was no off-street parking provided by the owner.

After the new code passed in August, the Reeds reapplied for permission to return the hotel to a business use. They received approval from the city's zoning administrator, Heine said.

Flickinger said the City Council did the right thing in removing the parking requirement from the code -- but they should have done it after a public hearing.

"I'm happy they yielded to the Reeds," Flickinger said. "I just don't think it was properly done. I'm concerned they didn't give the opportunity for public input."

Heine agreed, saying city government erred in not having a public hearing on the updates and changes in the code that affect zoning. It's just that they forgot those changes were in there, he said, because they were noted and put aside during the past two years.

Heine said there could be additional changes that require a public hearing -- he won't know for certain until they go back over the entire city code.

He said city attorney Thomas Stansfield advised him the city will need to hold a public hearing on any changes and vote again. In the meantime, he said, the change is valid for the Reeds.

The error came to light when the Reeds reapplied for a zoning change after the new city code went into effect. The revised code had been in the works for two years, as the council sought to put the charter and all ordinances and codes into one accessible, cross-referenced book.

Over the course of those two years, council members handled one section of the charter and code at a time, making changes, updates and clarifications. Their efforts were completed last spring, and the revised charter came up for a final vote last month. The entire document was approved at once.

Heine said that he and others had forgotten there was at least one change that affected zoning: the removal of a requirement that any new businesses provide off-street parking. He doesn't remember when the council discussed it, but said it had to have been before March.

"When we were looking at it at the time, one of the things we were thinking was nobody in the downtown business area could meet this requirement," Heine said.

The removal of the requirement has opened the way for the Reeds to seek business tenants for the first floor of the former hotel, which is at the corner of East Baltimore and York streets.

The old hotel is in the city's local business zone. But in 1990, a former owner received permission for a nonconforming use and turned the building into 19 residential apartments.

The Reeds bought it in February, after hearing about the shortage of commercial space in downtown Taneytown, Keith Reed said. He said they have spent at least $50,000 repairing the residential units on the second and third floors. They have left the first floor, about 3,500 square feet, mostly unchanged, until they know what tenants they will attract.

In denying the Reeds' initial appeal, the appeals board was responding to concerns of neighbors who testified about difficulties with a bar that occupied the space in the 1980s.

Reed had maintained he did not intend to put in a bar. He said he had in mind an antiques shop or coffeehouse, perhaps with smaller offices for insurance agents or other businesses.

The Reeds have put more work into the building -- including exterior improvements such as a new roof and rear deck -- than any previous owner, according to Heine.

"The mechanics of the whole thing seem to be a misunderstanding on all parts," Heine said. The building's past as a trouble spot has neighbors and the board on the watch, and Reed might not have realized how important it would be to make his request specific, Heine said.

The building has changed ownership four times since 1987. Damaged flooring and soiled carpets were ripped out, and walls were repainted. Some tenants who had caused problems were evicted, Reed said.

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