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Proposed Harford zoning changes would affect pets, signs, trees

Laws and LegislationAgricultureConservationForestry and Timber

The first bill of 2014 introduced to the Harford County Council will make a number of what appear to be relatively minor changes to the Zoning Code.

Bill 14-1, introduced by the County Council on Jan. 7, would clarify what kind of animals can be kept by people in residential zones, an issue that has come up in the past.

The legislation will also clarify so-called "cottage housing" provisions, revise rules on temporary signs and allow wall signs in several special zoning districts. Also affected will be forest conservation exemptions and tree preservation preferences.

A public hearing will be held on Bill 14-1 on the evening of Feb. 4.

The bill is not in response to any specific concerns, but rather the result of the planning and zoning department continuing to comb through its code for inconsistencies or confusing sections, Planning and Zoning Director Pete Gutwald said.

"For the most part, it's just a combination of lessons learned and things we were dealing with in implementing the code," he said.

The changes to the code include:

• Defining a multi-family dwelling as a minimum of two dwelling units designed for at least two families, instead of a minimum of three units designed for three families;

• Define livestock as "animals" instead of "house pets;"

• Clarifying the type of easement (drainage and utility) that can be exempt when a detached accessory structure is being built on an agricultural lot;

• Specifying what type of buffer yard may be required for a "cottage house" (a temporary house for someone older than 62 or handicapped, such as an added apartment for relatives);

• Requiring that the lot owner of the cottage house to get approval from the health department, submit certain documents and submit a conversion plan for approval;

• Prohibiting more than two temporary signs on a property in one calendar year;

• Adding "institutional buildings" to the types of properties where signs can be hung in a mixed-office district, the Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor, the Edgewood Neighborhood Overlay District or an integrated community shopping center;

• Reducing the amount of forest that can be exempt from forest conservation on a single parcel that is listed in land records as of Jan. 1, 1992, from 40,000 to 20,000 square feet; and

• List trees, shrubs, plants and specific areas that would be prioritized for retention and protection, and specify that the planning director can grant a waiver from that list if the applicant demonstrates an unwarranted hardship.

The bill, introduced Jan. 7 and set for a hearing Feb. 4, is not in response to any specific concerns, but rather the result of the planning and zoning department continuing to comb through its code for inconsistencies or confusing sections, department director Pete Gutwald said.

"For the most part, it's just a combination of lessons learned and things we were dealing with in implementing the code," he said.

The animal-related definition is "just being consistent with other parts of the zoning code," such as parts dealing with kennels and the nuisance law, he said.

For the piece dealing with temporary signs, Gutwald explained it was "an oversight or omission" to exclude institutional buildings.

He said the change was not prompted by anything specific, such as a complaint.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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