Two public hearings this week — the first one is Monday evening — wil be the final chances for people to make their voices heard publicly in Harford County’s 2017 comprehensive zoning.
The first hearing is at 6:30 p.m. at Aberdeen High School. The second hearing will be 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Bel Air High School.
“It’s vey important for people to come out,” Morita Bruce, co-president of Friends of Harford, a local land use advocacy group, said Sunday. “They need to understand that this about the only time they will get a chance to weigh in on what the zoning of a property is going to be. If they wait until later they can’t change it.”
Harford County conducts a comprehensive zoning process every eight years. Property owners can apply to have the zoning changed on their land, and the public can weigh in on those desired changes.
The County Council has the final say on what changes are approved.
There are 112 requests for zoning changes before the council. Positions that the county administration and the citizen Planning Advisory Board took on each issue can be found on the county’s Comprehensive Zoning website.
The format of Monday and Thursday’s hearings will be similar to the format of public hearings hosted by the council in the spring as the county’s annual budget is prepared, according to Council President Richard Slutzky.
The council will be seated on stage, and microphones will be set up on both sides of the room for the speakers.
People must sign up before the hearing in order to speak, Slutzky said.
“They can give us their thoughts or their concerns or approval of zoning issues,” Slutzky said. “That’s what it’s about.”
He said any time limit for individual speakers will depend on how many people attend. If only a handful come out, there will probably not be a time limit, but if 20 or 30 or more people come, there would be a limit, according to Slutzky.
He said individuals speaking for themselves would have three minutes, and anyone speaking for a group would have five minutes.
“We don’t often respond at any public hearing from the dais, but we listen and take notes on their comments,” Slutzky said.
Council members will use the time after the public hearings to prepare for the final vote on the comprehensive zoning legislation, including preparing any amendments.
Slutzky declined to say when the council will vote on the legislation, noting he does not want to rush council members or the council attorney as amendments are prepared.
“We’re going to try to move it as judiciously as possible,” Slutzky said. “[It] depends on how many issues we need to take a deeper look at.”
Each zoning change request is known as an “issue” for county officials.
Bruce, of Friends of Harford, stressed that Comprehensive Zoning is the time when people can have an impact on what kinds of development can happen in their neighborhoods.
Bruce said she often receives calls from concerned citizens about a project happening on a neighboring property and whether that project is allowed.
“People ask if it can be done,” she said. “Almost every time I have to say, ‘Yes they can,’ because of the zoning.”
Friends of Harford is a volunteer group that advocates for responsible land use. The group has been following the current comprehensive zoning process closely since it started last summer, stating its position on the requested changes on each of the 112 properties in question and hosting community meetings.
Many applicants have sought changes that would allow high-intensity residential or commercial development, and on several issues FOH has advocated for no change in the current zoning or changing to allow less-intense uses.
The group has staked out positions on each issue on its website.
Bruce encouraged people to volunteer with Friends of Harford, or if they can’t, “we urge them to get involved, keep up with what’s going on and to let their council members know where they stand.”