By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun
6:50 PM EDT, March 11, 2012
David Boyd has seen the county's rezoning routine hit home before. He didn't like it the first time and he doesn't like it now.
Boyd, who's steaming mad about a local preservationist group's latest attempt to limit what he can do with his 16 acres of wooded land in northern Baltimore County, has let his county councilman know — and plans to let others know at a public hearing this week.
"This is outrageous," Boyd wrote in a letter to County Councilman Todd Huff, referring to the Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council's "continued harassment of small property owners."
"I do hope something can be done about this so I won't have to continually go through this terrible inconvenience each time the CZMP comes up," he wrote.
The Comprehensive Zoning Map Process — in which the county may change rules governing land use — is under way, as it has been every four years since 1971. Battles are taking shape: From the rural north to the more populated south, from east to west, proposals could stir conflicts that will play out in hearings in each of the county's seven council districts and in official deliberations.
The County Council is scheduled to vote on zoning revisions in September.
As the quadrennial cycle goes, this has been a lean one, with a total of only 296 requests for zoning changes — the fewest since the process began.
Jeff Mayhew, the county's chief of community planning, said the economic slowdown probably contributed to the low figure. Others have wondered if new zoning requests are down because most big issues already have been resolved — or because of increased use of the Planned Unit Development process, which allows developers to depart from zoning regulations if they meet certain conditions.
Still, even though the overall numbers are low, the temperature of the proceedings might not be. Some conflicts could be heated.
Boyd is among many property owners whose land is included in three rezoning requests made by the Sparks-Glencoe group that encompass 1,014 acres. The organization's president, Kirsten Burger, said the applications reflect the group's mission "to protect the rural character of northern Baltimore County."
The group is asking that all but 36 of the 1,014 acres be changed to bar any subdivision of lots under 50 acres, covering most of the land. Landowners now can subdivide parcels between six and 10 acres into two lots each.
Burger said the group was trying to protect land for farming and natural resources, including streams — some populated with brook trout — that flow into the Gunpowder River, which in turn feeds the Loch Raven Reservoir. The organization's proposals are not supported by planning staff recommendations.
Boyd, who fought a similar request from Burger's group in 2008, said he's all for environmental protection and more than 30 years ago put his land into Maryland's forest preservation program. But he said that he wanted to be able to create lots for his children and that he's not happy with the way the process works. He said applicants for zoning changes should have to pay a fee for every parcel of land they want to change, not per application.
Boyd, a retired Towson University professor, plans to attend a Planning Board hearing Tuesday night at Loch Raven Senior High School.
"I expect to lay into them," he said.
Also in council District 3, the Cunningham Kitchen company recently bought 175 acres and seeks to change to zoning that would allow "clustered subdivisions." The company claims it wants the land to grow produce for its restaurants — which would be allowed under current zoning — but neighbors have written to county officials protesting what they believe are plans for a housing development.
Patricia A. Malone, a lawyer for Cunningham, said no such plans existed.
A battle of preservation versus property rights is also brewing on the county's more populated west side, where the Pikesville Communities Corporation and the Eccleston Neighborhood Association have made three requests to change to more restrictive zoning on about 530 acres.
Alan P. Zukerberg, president of the Pikesville group, said the area cannot handle more development.
"We're concerned that if these parcels were developed they would put an unreasonable burden on facilities in the area," including roads and schools, Zukerberg said.
Malone, who represents members of a family whose land would be affected, wrote to the planning office to protest, saying the owner had no "immediate plans" to develop the land. She added that the neighborhood groups have been "open about their intention to strip the ... family of its property rights."
In the commercial strip along Reisterstown Road in District 2, the owners of the Solo Cup site are asking to change the zoning there to allow a shopping center, including a Wegmans supermarket.
Planning office files include letters supporting the request. However, they also include opposition from a neighbor concerned about increased traffic and from a lawyer claiming the change violates the master plan, which recommends manufacturing, office and "mixed uses" on the land.
On the east side in District 6, the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability has come out against four requests for zoning that would allow more intense development on a total of nearly 200 acres. In each case, files show the agency found that the changes threaten an array of natural resources, including forests, and could contribute to Chesapeake Bay pollution.
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun