County Zoning Plan's future is cause for worry
Much has recently been written and discussed in the press concerning the Zoning Ordinance Review Committee's first phase of amendments to the Carroll County Zoning Ordinance that were adopted by two of the three County Commissioners on Sept. 17.
While the Phase I amendments addressed a number of issues, including time extensions for nonconforming uses, Declaratory Rulings by the Zoning Administrator, and outdoor storage of unlicensed vehicles, the provisions that have generated the most controversy are those dealing with clustering of residential lots in the Agricultural and Conservation Districts.
I'm writing because of my concern as to what will happen to our County Zoning Plan as we have known it for over 20 years. [The charge] that was given to the Zoning Ordinance Review Committee. ... does not call for new zoning regulations or a change in policy, only to update and be sure the language is easily understood by anyone reading it.
When the Chairman, Chuck Hollman, reviewed the Ordinance, no mention was made of transferring development rights from Conservation-zoned to Agricultural-zoned land. At the public hearing, there was no mention of this. This portion of the Ordinance was not discussed with our Planning Director or our Agricultural Land Preservation staff member. It was not discussed with the Board of Commissioners as a whole.
The only thing that was emphasized during the meeting with the Commissioners was the open space that would be created if we clustered lots on one acre in the Conservation District and kept the other two acres in open space. It sounds good, but when you think of all the acres of non-buildable Conservation zoned land that can now be used as the basis for transferring lots onto open Agricultural zoned land, we all lose.
To better explain this, we need to review the stated purpose of each of these zoning districts. The Zoning Ordinance notes that the purpose of the Agricultural District is "to provide for continued farming activities, conserve agricultural land, and reaffirm agricultural use, activities, and operations as the preferred dominant use of the land within the District."
The intent of this article is to recognize the need for and appropriateness of very limited residential development in the Agricultural District, but to prohibit residential development of a more extensive nature.
It is the further purpose of this district to maintain and promote the open character of this land as well as to promote the continuance and viability of the farming and agribusiness uses."
The purpose of the Conservation District is "to prescribe a zoning category for those areas where, because of natural geographic factors and existing land uses, it is considered feasible and desirable to conserve open spaces, protect water supply sources, conserve woodland areas, wildlife, and other natural resources. This district may include extensive steeply sloped areas, stream valleys, water supply sources, and wooded areas adjacent thereto."
Clustering of residential lots is not a new concept to the Carroll County Zoning Ordinance. In fact, clustering of one-acre lots in the Agricultural District has been required since 1978 when the Agricultural District was amended to generally allow one new one-acre lot to be created for every 20 acres in the overall tract so that a large remainder devoted to agriculture results.
Since 1994 clustering in the Conservation District has been permitted providing for three-acre minimum-sized lots to be reduced to two-acre minimum lots with the provision that "the total number of lots and dwelling units shall not exceed the number that would be permitted if the area were developed in conformance with its topographic characteristics and normal minimum lot size requirements." Based on this requirement, lots were not extensively developed in stream corridors zoned Conservation because it was primarily steep slopes, floodplains, and wetlands that do not pass percolation tests. In areas zoned Conservation because of proximity to existing or planned public water supplies, clustering of new lots was based on a conventional three-acre layout and then clustered down to two acres with the remaining undeveloped land in open space protecting the resource.