Craig unveils plan to revise Harford zoning

February 07, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,sun reporter

Almost a year after vetoing a comprehensive rezoning package and bringing an abrupt end to a contentious episode, Harford County Executive David R. Craig unveiled a plan yesterday to revise the zoning code and put the rezoning effort back on track.

Last March, Craig struck down a rezoning package approved by the County Council, saying it allowed too much growth outside the county's designated development area. The move scrapped about 350 rezoning requests for parcels throughout the county and left hundreds of property owners unable to move forward on development projects. He also called for rewriting the zoning code, last revised in 1982, saying it should reflect modern design standards.

Yesterday, Craig and Council President Billy Boniface presented a plan to submit a revised code to the council by October 2008. Because the rezoning application process can take months, the county would begin accepting applications in July 2008 in anticipation of a new code coming in the fall.

"The last council tried to plan without the code, and that led to failure," Boniface said. "There is a more co-operative nature now."

The plan also calls for updating programs for farm preservation and natural resource protection, both of which could affect zoning policy. The county will hire a consultant to act as a liaison between the government and the public, Craig said, and will form a "work group" made up of residents, business owners, farmers and developers.

"We have heard citizens want more input," Craig said, adding that regular updates will be available on the county government's Web site.

Boniface added, "By getting everybody involved from the beginning, we can do a better job shaping this county for the future."

The rezoning process, which takes place every eight years in Harford, allows property owners to request new uses for their land. With Harford expected to grow by as many as 60,000 residents over the next decade as a result of expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground, officials say the planning process is as important as ever.

"Failure to rewrite a very much outdated zoning code was the driving force for me to run for office," said Boniface, who was elected to the council last November. "A new set of codes can accomplish what is needed for the future of growth. This is the key to creating the Harford County that all of us want to live in. It is the most critical piece for the next four years, even if BRAC was not in the equation."

If the proposed timetable for revising the code and resuming the rezoning process holds, the council finally could receive petitions for rezoning by the end of 2009.

The most desired change from the last go-round is more collaboration between the council and the administration, Boniface said.

"The whole process involves the council from beginning to end," Boniface said. "It is my hope we will come up with a document that we all can agree with."

In the previous round of comprehensive rezoning in 1997, a group of activists dissatisfied with results turned to a ballot referendum in 1997 to fight the changes and attempted to force a one-year moratorium on development. Both measures failed.

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