County Council alters zoning

Sweeping changes aimed at protecting rural land, water sources in Balto. Co.

Thousands of acres affected

547 requests reviewed in quadrennial process

September 01, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council approved sweeping changes last night in zoning classifications affecting thousands of acres, protecting streams that feed area reservoirs and further restricting development in the farmland and forests that surround sources of drinking water for much of the metropolitan area.

The council also shifted significant acreage into a month-old zoning classification designed to allow small-scale landowners to develop a portion of their land while preventing large-scale development on big tracts set aside for conservation.

"There were major changes in many parts of the county," county Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III said after last night's two-hour meeting. "In terms of the rural areas, there was a definite downshifting that was significant. Perhaps for some, it wasn't enough. Perhaps for others, it was a lot."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly reported the date that the Comprehensive Zoning Map approved Tuesday night by the Baltimore County Council will take effect.
The legislation will take effect tomorrow, provided County Executive James T. Smith Jr. signs the bills by then. If he signs them between Saturday and the end of his 10-day review period, the bills will take effect on the date of his signature. If he chooses not to sign them, the zoning bills will take effect Sept. 3, the date designated by the County Council.

The council's actions represent the culmination of the Comprehensive Zoning Map process, a yearlong exercise that unfolds once every four years when every property in Baltimore County can be considered for a zoning change. The process allows property owners to seek new zoning for their land - and neighbors, county planners, council members and community groups to seek zoning changes for parcels owned by others.

About 150 people attended the meeting to see how the seven council members would vote on 547 requests that could have changed the zoning classification of about 90,000 acres - an area that, if lumped together, would be nearly twice the size of Baltimore City.

For the uninitiated, it was a difficult scene to understand.

Among those who have spent years following zoning policy and had invested long hours in preparing for the meeting, some left wondering what had transpired.

"While I've got a bunch of notes, I can't really tell what we have. I think I know the gist of what happened, but we'll have to wait to see the maps," said Jack Dillon, who was attending his last zoning meeting before stepping down at midnight as executive director of the Valleys Planning Council.

For two hours, spectators flipped through dozens of pages that made up the log of issues to be decided by the council. Announcing little more than the letter and numerical abbreviations of zoning classifications and the number of acres affected by each proposal, the councilmen swept through hundreds of changes in lightning speed.

Sometimes they tripped themselves up with the complexity of abbreviations. The acreage affected sometimes was delineated out to as many as eight decimal places. And one case, a zoning change involving 20,830 acres surrounding Loch Raven Reservoir, was so complicated that Councilman T. Bryan McIntire and county planners asked interested residents simply to consult overlay maps that were expected to be available later this week.

The process began a year ago when the filing period opened for property owners to seek new zoning.

Although council members had fewer separate issues to weigh this year - 547 requests, compared with the 619 petitions filed four years ago - several involved thousands of acres each.

Among the largest single requests was a petition from the Prettyboy Watershed Preservation Society to change the zoning on 12,550 acres in the watershed area from the resource conservation zoning classification known as RC4 to the less permissive RC7, allowing construction of one house per 25 acres, rather than one house for every 3 acres.

Although McIntire - a north county Republican whose district includes Prettyboy Reservoir - didn't go quite as far as some preservationists would have liked, he made some changes in the watershed area that activists said will prevent large-scale development.

"We're very happy with the changes," said Sharon Bailey, president of the watershed preservation society. She said the new resource conservation zoning classification - called RC8 - that McIntire created last month and used to rezone more than 5,000 acres of privately owned land in the watershed area is "a perfect fit."

"It's a good compromise for landowners who own large tracts of land and want to be able to give their children some of that land," Bailey said. "It fulfills those families' needs but does not allow a developer to come in and make huge subdivisions out of farmland."

The revised Comprehensive Zoning Map will take effect 45 days after being signed into law by the county executive.

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