After a summer break from most legislative activities, the Harford County Council will be looking at two significant issues when it returns to action next week, the council president said Tuesday.
One involves the transfer of development rights from rural properties to the county's designated growth area. The other is the possible need for changes in the county's B3 commercial zoning classification to avoid future controversies like the one over the proposed Bel Air – Plumtree Walmart site.
Council President Billy Boniface said the council plans to consider legislation around October to ease the burden on landowners, following a new state law that reduces development in rural parts of Maryland served only by septic systems.
"That will be a big topic of discussion, especially with the state taking away from many of the landowners in rural Harford County their development rights," he said.
Boniface said the county hopes to assemble a TDR program to allow the landowners to retain those rights to develop building lots by using them somewhere else.
Last week, the county announced it has begun the process to designate and adopt a countywide map that identifies four land use tiers based upon on specific criteria established by the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act.
These tiers will identify where major and minor subdivisions may be located and what type of sewerage system will serve them, according to the county. The bill also requires that definitions for minor and major subdivisions be adopted, all by Dec. 31.
To help landowners understand how the legislation applies to their property, the Department of Planning and Zoning set up a web page at http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/planningzoning to provide information on the new law and details the criteria that were used to establish the four tier designations. The site also contains an interactive map that allows property owners to check the designation assigned to their property.
After meeting just once in July and not at all in August during its recess, the council's first meeting back is this coming Tuesday.
Walmart controversy and B3 zoning
Boniface also confirmed the council will consider changing the parameters of the county's B3 zoning classification in light of the recent controversy over plans to build Walmart at Route 924 and Plumtree Road south of Bel Air.
Although it is too late to change anything on the current plans for Walmart at Plumtree, Boniface said: "We are looking at the B3 zoning classification and seeing if we cannot restrict a Walmart or a big-box-type development, but put more teeth in what's required of them."
The 33-acre property where the Walmart is planned still had residential zoning as recently as 2009, when it was changed to B3, the highest commercial classification, as part of a countywide comprehensive rezoning that was passed by the current council members and signed into law by County Executive David Craig.
Boniface said he also expects to see legislation from the county executive to transfer funds toward the completion of the Havre de Grace High School stadium and to permit the county to declare surplus the new Patterson Mill fire station in order to turn it over to the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company.
The council will also have a number of bond bills and its normal fall update on the water and sewer plan, as required by the state, he said.
Having spent the summer largely away from council business after the sudden death of his son, Ben, in an accident in mid-June, Boniface said he is taking his council responsibilities one day at a time.
"I am doing OK," he said. "Nobody is ever the same who has had to experience what me and my wife experienced."