Council OKs update of zoning definitions

Changes to commercial, industrial categories for comprehensive review

February 08, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County's zoning code has entered the cyber age.

The County Council last night made "telecommuting centers" a permitted use, paving the way for establishments where people can rent space and a computer, and work without going to the office.

The change is one of dozens designed to update the county's commercial and industrial zoning definitions for the first time since the early 1970s. Under the law, uses not listed in the code are prohibited.

The revamped language will guide the council when it reviews, and considers changing, the zoning for individual parcels as part of a comprehensive countywide rezoning. The process is expected to last until 2004 and shape development for years to come.

While many of the modifications will be felt across the county, one was tailored for an individual: a Severna Park produce store owner who now can store fruit and vegetable on his property legally.

The council's unanimous approval of the new definitions ends three months of study and debate that sometimes focused on seemingly obscure questions such as the difference between a supermarket and a grocery store.

The council still must tackle definitions for residential and other zoning categories. "None of them are sexy issues," said Councilman John J. Klocko III. "Collectively, they make a difference."

The addition of telecommuting centers illustrates only one attempt to try to ease congestion on county roads. For example, new rules will make it easier for developers to open delis and banks in industrial and office parks, freeing employees from having to drive for lunch or midday errands.

At the same time, the council imposed new size limits on retail stores so that neighborhood shopping centers fit in with surrounding residences. New stores in those areas can be no larger than 25,000 square feet, effectively shutting out large supermarkets but allowing smaller grocery stores.

County planners had suggested a limit of 40,000 square feet, while Councilman Cliff R. Roop had offered a cap of 55,000 square feet.

The council also approved height restrictions in certain commercial districts. Buildings can be no higher than 60 feet, and any that rise above 45 feet must be set back progressively farther from the property's edge.

One of the changes was made for Doug Diehl, who for the past 28 years has stored produce for his farm stand behind a house he owns, even though it is prohibited in residential districts.

Diehl no longer has to worry. The definition approved last night allow limited storage of produce in certain residential areas, including his property.

Diehl originally wanted the council to allow limited storage on commercially zoned property, even though that would have required his property be reclassified as commercial.

At the Jan. 3 meeting Roop made an emotional speech in support of Diehl, a supporter and contributor of Roop's, and persuaded all but one of his colleagues to give Diehl the exception he sought. Roop died of a heart attack moments later.

Since Roop's death, the council has maintained Diehl's exemption, but by allowing limited produce storage in certain residential districts instead of in commercial districts.

Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle made the suggestion to allay fears of creeping commercial activity in the area.

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