Harford Council passes Comprehensive Zoning legislation

The 2017 Comprehensive Zoning legislation and a handful of amendments were approved Tuesday night by the Harford County Council.

The legislation addressed property owners’ requests to rezone 112 properties were approved 6-0. Councilman Joe Woods, an employee of FEMA who was deployed to Florida to help with Hurricane Irma recovery efforts, was not at the meeting.

The Comprehensive Zoning Review process, required every eight years by law in Harford County, got underway more than a year ago.

The final legislation passed Tuesday must still be signed by County Executive Barry Glassman, who has veto powers. Once approved, there will be a 60-day period during which residents can petition the legislation to referendum.

Among the rezoning requests not approved via the legislation were two sets of properties in northern Harford County, one at the intersection of Route 23 and Route 24 in Forest Hill, and another at Route 23 and Jarrettsville Pike in Madonna. Rezonings sought by the owners were actively opposed by area residents who organized “Protect this Village” of Forest Hill and “Keep Madonna Rural.”

In Forest Hill, the property at the intersection, currently zoned rural residential, was upzoned only to low density R1 residential. The owner had sought B3 general business zoning, a much higher intensity classification.

In Madonna, the owner of 8 acres at the intersection of Routes 23 and 146 had sought rezoning from agricultural to high-intensity B3 business. The legislation left the zoning at AG, however.

Before voting on the final bill, council members lauded the work done by Glassman’s administration and the county Planning Advisory Board, for reviewing each rezoning request and making recommendations.

“I had no amendments. Your administration, Planning and Zoning, the Planning Advisory Board, did a very fair job,” Councilman Chad Shrodes said. “There was no need for me to change anything.”

Councilman Jim McMahan made sure to praise the advisory board.

“They don’t get enough credit for the amount of time they put in, taking ideas Planning and Zoning gives them, rehashing them and making their own independent decisions,” McMahan said.

He also thanked the people who got involved in the process, from individual citizens to citizen groups, like Friends of Harford, which made its own comments on the requests.

Before approving the entire bill, the council approved 13 amendments to properties in Aberdeen, Abingdon, greater Bel Air, Fallston and Joppa.

Aberdeen area

The biggest group was a set of changes to a cluster of properties, totaling about 8 acres, on the east side of Long Drive at the intersection of Route 22, which are zoned agricultural.

The owners were seeking B3 commercial zoning, but the council approved Councilman Patrick Vincenti’s amendments to rezone them to B1, a less intense zoning classification.

“These six parcels are surrounded by light industrial, mixed office, residential and it just makes no sense to leave them ag,” Vincenti said.

The county Planning and Zoning Department had recommended the zoning not be changed and the Planning Advisory Board, which reviewed each request, recommended a mixed office use.

In proposing the amendments, Vincenti said he spoke with Planning and Zoning staff, advisory board members, and Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady and Planning Director Phyllis Grover about the changes. Everyone agreed B1 zoning would be “consistent and compatible” with the development and land use in the surrounding area.

The properties are in an area targeted by the city of Aberdeen for possible annexation, including as far northwest as Aldino-Stepney Road.

Other changes

The council approved an amendment by Councilman Curtis Beulah to change the zoning of a 2-acre parcel off Woodsdale Road in Abingdon to commercial industrial instead of the R4 that was requested.

The property at Route 924 and Box Hill Corporate Center Drive in Abingdon is behind a strip mall and across the street from Kiddie Academy. It fronts on Woodsale and backs up to commercial industrial property and would have “no significant impact to the community,” Beulah said.

Another Beulah amendment the council approved was to change a 5.4-acre parcel at the intersection of Route 7 and Abingdon Road in Abingdon from a combined R2/B2 residential/business zoning to strictly B2. The owner requested the B2 classification.

Rezoning that property is logical, Beulah said, since it’s not suitable for R2 development at the intersection, where there’s a 7-Eleven, funeral home and gas station.

“This would allow for slight expansion of businesses on that corner,” Beulah said.

Rezoning a 3.1-acre parcel on Ring Factory Road south of Bel Air with agricultural on one side and R2 on the rest, to R2 was also approved.Changing the zoning to R2 would be the “highest and best use consistent with the Master Land Use Plan,” McMahan said.

The council approved an amendment by council President Richard Slutzky to rezone 1.26 acres of two properties totaling 3.38 acres on North Fountain Green Road at the intersection of Prospect Mill Road from a combined AG to B1, which the county Planning and Zoning, and Planning Advisory Board rejected. The properties are east of Bel Air in an area that has seen ongoing development over the last three decades.

The property is zoned B1 along Route 543 and is agricultural as it goes downhill toward a small stream, said Slutzky, who has relatives living close to the intersection. There would still be a substantial agricultural buffer between the property in question and the next property.

Slutzky also introduced two amendments on behalf of Woods, one to take a 1.34-acre property in Fallston from agricultural zoning to a residential office zoning, as requested by the property owner but rejected by Planning and Zoning and the Planning Advisory Board.

The property, at 2901 Belair Road and accessible by Reckord Road, has a house and shed on it and used to be a florist “way back in the day,” Woods’ legislative assistant, Jessica Blake, said.

“No business could ever operate there because of the zoning,” Blake said.

The other property for which Woods introduced an amendment was for a property at Fallston and Pleasantville roads, the site of Thomas Sawmill, which Blake said has been in operation since before 1957.

The property has a split zoning of B1 and rural residential and the B1 lines runs directly through the middle of the building, so part if B1, part is RR.

The family that owns and operates the sawmill requested the change 5.4 of the 47 acres to B1; Planning and Zoning, and the advisory board recommended keeping the property RR.

By rezoning the RR piece to B1, the family will be able to use all of the existing building for commercial services, Blake said.

This story and the accompanying photo caption have been updated from earlier versions with corrections about the Forest Hill and Madonna properties issues.

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