Balto Co. May Limit Building Permit's Term

August 03, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,

To clarify residential construction standards, prevent unnecessary disturbance of land and ease the present financial burden on the beleaguered housing industry, the Baltimore County Council is considering a bill that would make a building permit viable for nine years.

If the landowner has not invested money in the property within that time frame, the permit becomes void and the project would have to go through the building review process again.

The bill, which the council is to consider Monday, would eliminate the "forever" status for an approved development plan in which the property owner has invested even minimally within four years of receiving a permit.

"The problem with the old law is that the developer could immediately vest in the least expensive way possible, like with a trailer and a crusher run driveway that sits there, and his plan is protected forever," Councilman Kevin Kamenetz explained.

Several projects have won approval in the past few years, but because of the housing downturn, developers have been reluctant to invest any further in the property and the clock is ticking on the four-year investment policy, said Pat Keller, county director of planning.

"We know a lot of builders are struggling," Keller said. "The four-year limit could run out before they invest."

Kamenetz said maintaining the present policy may lead to foreclosures on major projects. The new law would give the landowner who has met all permitting requirements a nine-year building window.

"Under the new law, vesting will occur when the plat is recorded and the developer will have certainty of his investment for nine years," Kamenetz said.

It would avoid the artificial disturbance of land to meet the vesting requirement and end a practice that allowed a developer to break ground years, sometimes decades, after receiving a permit. It also requires adherence to land-use changes that may occur in the interim between permitting and construction, Keller said.

"In essence, the developer has to comply with the prevailing zoning or start all over again," he said.

Every proposed development would still undergo a rigorous review process and public hearings before the county issues a building permit. All state and federal regulations would apply and the landowner would be responsible for maintaining the property. Only the time frame will change, if the proposal is enacted. It would take effect Aug. 17.

"This will end efforts to artificially vest in a property and forever vesting," Kamenetz said. "This way you will have an approved plan and you will not have to dig up land to protect it."

In a letter to the council, Richard Parsons, a member of the West Towson Neighborhood Association, criticized the bill as too open-ended and said the vesting period is too long.

"We are concerned that this bill allows indefinite, unappealable vesting for any piece of land in any part of the county," Parsons wrote.

At the council work session Tuesday, representatives of several community associations spoke in favor of the bill.

"Nine years certainly is an improvement," said Allen Robertson of the Bowleys Quarters Community Association, who added he would like an even shorter time frame.

Builders said the bill would provide them more flexibility in an uncertain economy.

"This bill allows us time to wait in building slumps like we are experiencing now," said Mark Buda, vice president of James Keelty Co.

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