Annapolis residents and developers alike know the city’s planning and zoning code as opaque, vague and sometimes contradictory.
At the City Council meeting Monday night, the council passed a number of measures to make it slightly less so.
An omnibus bill sponsored by Mayor Gavin Buckley, Alderman Marc Rodriguez, Alderwoman Elly Tierney and Alderman Fred Paone packed several changes to the code into one piece of legislation. Another ordinance clarifies public meeting requirements for subdivisions that will create at least one new road.
Of all the changes approved Monday night, here are a few highlights:
O-14-18 resolves a legal dispute between the city and several developers following the passage of community meeting requirements last October. Another ordinance, O-35-17, requires developers of large subdivisions to meet with the neighbors their project might affect — but Annapolis attorney Alan Hyatt filed a petition for judicial review on behalf of his clients, arguing the rules set out were too vague and subject to uneven enforcement. The city and the plaintiffs agreed to work together to clarify the legislation and prevent further legal back and forth.
The resulting bill requires developers to notify specific community and homeowners associations of upcoming projects instead of people who reside or own land “in close proximity” to the development. The Office of the Mayor will maintain the list.
A small but potentially meaningful change instructs developers to host these meetings as a way to “become aware of” community concerns and comments, rather than to “address” them, as the legislation previously instructed.
The legislation passed unanimously, ending the legal process that began in January.
The omnibus bill, O-19-18, amends several pieces of the zoning code.
One of the changes: the conditions under which the Board of Appeals can grant a zoning district boundary adjustment. There are areas in the city where a single piece of land might have several different types of zoning throughout. The code allows the city to, in Ward 8 only, extend zoning on the majority of the parcel to the rest of it.
This amendment clarifies the criteria the appeals board must consider when granting a boundary adjustment. The board can now grant a boundary adjustment if the applicant has “practical difficulty” in applying the zoning code as written.
Previously, the board of appeals had to consider either unecessary hardship or practical difficulty, a confusing standard according to city staff.
Another change requires an applicant to demonstrate his or her project will be suitable for the zoning if no specific use is otherwise designated.
Right now, the city requires any multi-family residential development to include retail or office space within the Business Corridor Enhancement district, an area geared toward commercial growth. City staff notes there are several properties in the district where retail or office space couldn’t feasibly exist because, for example, the building doesn’t have useable storefront space.
The bill removes this requirement for buildings without access to a road or the proper frontage.
Some Eastport residents balked at parts of O-19-18 that would make it easier for land owners to develop on smaller parcels. Residents of Fourth Street in particular cautioned the council against relaxing rules for zoning variances, as those residence have been aggrieved by the effects of development on their street.
Elsewhere on Monday night’s agenda, Alderman Rob Savidge’s “no net loss” forest protection legislation passed with only Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson voting against.
The controversial bill would require developers to replace every tree they knock down. The legislation up Monday evening has dozens of suggested amendments that would give the developer alternatives to one-for-one mitigation, preserve some reforestation credits and provide reforestation opportunities outside the city.
The City Council argued over the bill for more than an hour and a half. Finlayson offered amendments to preserve part of the reforestation credit and grandfather projects with active applications as a compromise, but they failed.
A Savidge amendment to grandfather projects with preliminary forest conservation plan approval passed
Finalyson and Savidge sparred over whether the legislation is necessary to preserve tree canopy.
Savidge stressed the need to stop projects in the pipeline that would remove about 20 acres of trees if they go forward. Finlayson chastised the council for demonizing developers, perpetuating a lack of housing in the city.
“It’s all contrived and we don’t want to say that because it’s ugly,” she said. “Our property owners are having their rights taken away. We could be helping them… but we’re not doing that. We’re going to perpetuate the haves and the have nots.”
The council passed a charter amendment defining a process to designate an acting mayor should the mayor be absent without designating a successor.
The city manager will succeed the mayor until the council convenes and votes on an acting mayor from within their ranks.