Harford council passes buffer changes for on-farm businesses

Harford residents can now undertake commercial enterprises on their agricultural land with much smaller buffers than before, after the County Council passed a bill changing buffer yard requirements Tuesday night.

Council members unanimously passed Bill 13-52, which removed a requirement of a 50-foot buffer on agricultural properties between commercial activities and public roads or off-site homes.

The change affects on-farm business activities such as produce stands or dairy sales and other retail services.

Councilman Chad Shrodes said he believes the change will increase farmers' ability to market themselves and will encourage people to buy local products.

"This legislation will help farmers continue to be innovative on their properties without taking land out of ag production or screening their business from the motoring public," he said.

Shrodes noted the bill does not change setbacks from neighbors or the use of the property.

He said it mostly gives greater flexibility to the county's planning and zoning department to allow landscaping around the property.

The 50-foot buffer requirement "would really have blocked out their businesses from motorists traveling down the road and taking lots of productive farmland and keeping it so they couldn't use it," he said.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said she had some questions about whether the legislation would have any impact on existing buffers or landscaping standards, but she said she was ultimately comfortable with the language as written.

The council also passed Bill 13-51 Tuesday allowing an increase in the size and height of an accessory structure in the agricultural district for properties five acres or larger.

Shrodes said this bill mostly affects sheds and similar accessory structures built on properties where the main dwellings are "ranchers" or single-story homes.

The original bill said an accessory structure cannot exceed 50 percent of the square footage of the principal dwelling's habitable space or 1,000 square feet, whichever is greater.

The zoning change raises the habitable space requirement to 50 percent of the habitable space or 2,500 square feet, whichever is greater.

It also says that for properties greater than five acres in the ag district, the height of an accessory structure "shall not exceed 115 percent of the height of the principal structure."

Choir singer, SARC recognition

Walter Litzenberger Jr., a student at Aberdeen High School, was recognized by the county council for being selected to the All-National Choir.

Councilman Jim McMahan said Walter has been singing with the choir since he was in 10th grade and is also a piano accompanist.

He is the only Harford student to be chosen for the choir this year and joins 16 others from Maryland.

SARC, a Harford non-profit that combats domestic violence and other types of abuse, accepted a proclamation about National Stalking Awareness Month.

The council also appointed Tim Wills to the Local Management Board, replacing Jennifer Redding. The board monitors and facilitates a wide range of services to the county's children.

More on schools

McMahan questioned the low turnout at one of the recent public input sessions the school system is having to receive comments on its proposed budget for next school year.

The councilman said there was a lot of public controversy around the school budget last year and said he was surprised only three people "thought the education of our children was worth any effort."

Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, the county teachers union, told McMahan that many people work multiple jobs just to get by and can't attend meetings. Attendance at an evening session in Havre de Grace on Jan. 8 drew about five people, three who spoke. Two people attended and spoke at a session Monday afternoon in Aberdeen.

"Part of the reason you see budget meetings lightly attended is the economic state of affairs," Burbey said. "To call them out for every single meeting would impede with their ability to support their families."

He also said another reason for the low participation is residents have elected county council and the Board of Education members to represent their best interests, and it is up to the elected officials to work together, solve problems and reduce the controversy.

Burbey said again that the county is in a "dire situation" because the "best and brightest" teachers are leaving Harford for better wages elsewhere.

John Mallamo, another frequent speaker at council meetings, disagreed with Burbey.

"I take great exception to your statement that the best and brightest are leaving Harford County," said Mallamo, who did attend and speak at the budget session Monday. "We have good teachers who stay for a variety of reasons."

Mallamo also repeated his request from a week earlier that the council explain publicly why specific legislation is introduced and who asks for it.

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