The 2012 Comprehensive Zoning Map Process (CZMP) decisions provide a way to measure the performance of Todd Huff, our freshman councilman for the 3rd District. When Huff ran on a platform of being in favor of both property rights and land preservation, many residents were confused. His CZMP decisions demonstrate that he will use his zoning power to further landowners' development rights rather than the health, safety and welfare of Baltimore County.
During his campaign, Huff promised not to change the zoning enacted by his predecessor, Bryan McIntire. But he did precisely that. In this CZMP, Huff changed McIntire's zoning on hundreds of acres; Huff increased the amount of development allowed on land with forests, streams, rivers, and working farms.
Huff stated that his decisions represent a compromise, but he upzoned hundreds of acres and downzoned none. In an interview with (a North County News) reporter, Huff stated that he hoped to receive fewer petitions in the next CZMP cycle, since he had demonstrated that he was not receptive to requests for downzoning. In other words, only requests for increased development rights will be welcome in the future. While Huff did not grant all upzoning requests, this comes as little comfort in the district where tens of thousands of acres were downzoned during the tenure of our former councilman.
Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council filed downzoning petitions showing where land with waterways, forests, fertile farmland and sensitive wildlife was zoned to allow development which would degrade those resources. Huff denied our requests for more protective zoning and instead decided to allow more development in North County.
All the rivers and streams on the land upzoned by Huff drain to either the Prettyboy or Loch Raven reservoirs, which supply drinking water to millions of Marylanders; both reservoirs already have pollution levels in violation of the Clean Water Act. By allowing more development and the erosion, pollution and impervious surfaces that accompany it, Huff's decisions undermine clean water initiatives and pave the way for further degradation.
Huff's decisions disregarded a strong showing of community sentiment. Thousands signed petitions, hundreds attended hearings and meetings (including a town hall meeting that Huff refused to attend), and more made visits to Huff's office asking him to increase or maintain the level of resource protection afforded by current zoning.
Ignoring a petition signed by more than 1,000 community members, including over 200 residents of the Broadmead Retirement Community, Huff granted the request of developer Tom Obrecht to rezone land in Sparks to enable Obrecht to build townhouses. This request was rejected repeatedly by McIntire. The property, zoned for manufacturing, was intended to be an economic engine for the county. Instead, a townhouse development will impose costs on the county to build infrastructure and provide schooling, trash collection, police protection and other services. When the county is struggling to balance the budget, this decision makes no sense.
Huff granted Judge Turnbull's request for increased development rights on his 97 acres, and also upzoned 175 acres for David Smith, owner of Sinclair Broadcast Group. In the interview with your reporter, Huff indicated that Turnbull intended to place all but four lots in an agricultural easement and that Smith plans to place his land in permanent preservation. Let's hope these landowners follow through on their promises. The zoning changes do not legally bind them to do so.
Development rights are key considerations when properties are valued for preservation programs. By upzoning their land, Huff has enhanced the financial benefits that these landowners may receive from land preservation programs.
Explaining the upzoning granted to Turnbull, Huff stated in the interview with your reporter that he was merely correcting the zoning that McIntire had "unintentionally" placed on Turnbull's land in 2008; but Turnbull's land was deliberately included in a 2004 comprehensive downzoning to preserve hundreds of acres in the Belfast Valley, action taken on the county's own initiative. Had a mistake been made, it could have been corrected in the 2008 CZMP cycle, if not earlier, but the preservation zoning remained until Huff upzoned the property.
You might expect a freshman councilman confronted with such a daunting task as the CZMP to rely on the advice of the county's land use experts, compiled in the Master Plan. Yet Huff ignored that plan's cautions against increasing density in reservoir watershed areas, and its recommendation to use zoning to halt the conversion of farmland into housing developments. Huff also disregarded basic comprehensive zoning policy when he adopted "spot zoning," arbitrarily granting more development rights to some while denying their neighbors' requests.
Through his actions during this 2012 CZMP process, Huff has demonstrated that he will use his authority to benefit a chosen few, rather than for the benefit of the county as a whole. These decisions represent a loss for land preservation, local farming, water quality, the environment and democracy.
Kirsten Burger, president
Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning CouncilCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun