Friends of Harford strongly opposes Bill 14-21, the Charter Amendment to eliminate both the County Council serving as the Board of Appeals and the Board of Appeals itself. Under this bill, appeals of Zoning decisions made by the Hearing Examiner could only be made to the Maryland Circuit Court, making Harford County the only county in Maryland without a Board of Appeals.
Under the current county charter, the Council sets the zoning law (Master Plan and Zoning Code) and oversees and approves all changes, including Comprehensive Rezoning, Special Exceptions, etc. Now our elected officials want to pull back from any individual case where they might have to make a real decision. And the change is worse than that. The Board of Appeals can modify the conditions set by the Hearing Examiner to protect the community; the Circuit Court can't. They only rule on whether the case was properly handled. Circuit Court appeals are also expensive.
Council members have said they want to be able to talk with their constituents. A charter amendment passed two years ago (Bill 12-33) has already clarified that Council members are allowed to discuss any development or neighborhood issue up until the time an actual zoning case is filed, removing this issue as an excuse for Bill 14-21.
If the Council will not take responsibility for reviewing zoning decisions by the Hearing Examiner, then they should not have any zoning authority at all - i.e., no authority to do comprehensive rezoning and no authority to appoint a Hearing Examiner. It makes no sense for them to be able to pass laws assigning a zoning category to any and all property in the county and then not have the authority to review a zoning decision related to a particular property that they assigned a zoning category to in the first place.
If this charter amendment passes, one unelected person, the Hearing Examiner, will have ultimate authority over the meaning and application of all land use rules and be the arbiter of differences of opinion between the Executive and Legislative Branches of local government. Why is the Council abdicating its responsibility and duty to serve the interests of the voters who elected them? They are elected to make decisions, not avoid them.
Friends of Harford