After citizens objected to some of the proposed changes to Carroll County’s zoning code, the county commissioners made changes to the rezoning proposal, including a decreased separation requirement for medical cannabis dispensaries.
Carroll County is in the process of updating its nearly 40-year-old zoning code. The proposed changes have been posted online and, on Oct. 3, the county held two public hearings to hear comments from citizens. The record remained open for 10 days. Planning Director Lynda Eisenberg presented an 85-page packet summarizing the public comments and staff responses to the commissioners Oct. 17.
The commissioners discussed these comments for nearly two hours Thursday during an afternoon work session with members of the planning department and other county staff involved in the comprehensive rezoning effort. Commissioners agreed upon several changes, but they have more to discuss at a future work session before the board will consider adopting the comprehensive rezoning plan.
An Eldersburg resident raised issue at one of the hearings Oct. 3 regarding where medical cannabis dispensaries may be built. Bill MacCormack then protested the ability for a dispensary to be built adjacent to the property where he resides, which is also near a school.
Currently, medical cannabis dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet from a school, according to county zoning. Dispensaries are only permitted in industrial districts, the public hearing comment packet states.
At a Feb. 12 work session, the commissioners chose to eliminate that requirement, though the zoning code would still mandate 200 feet of separation from a residence or school, according to the public comment packet.
The change is not final until the commissioners adopt the comprehensive rezoning plan.
Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said in an interview Friday that at the February meeting, commissioners chose to eliminate the 1,000-feet requirement because they recognized medical cannabis dispensaries are regulated and similar to pharmacies.
But on Thursday, Rothstein voiced a change in opinion.
“The more I think about it, the more I don’t like it,” he said.
Rothstein proposed keeping the distance at 1,000 feet — to make a point.
“It’s sending a message that we are less accepting of medical cannabis dispensaries in our community,” he said.
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, shared a similar view.
“I don’t think it should be near schools at all,” Wantz said.
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, said he met with the citizen who complained. Bouchat said he pointed out that there is a liquor store and bar not far from the location in question.
“I view the cannabis dispensary the same as I view liquor stores and pharmacies. They’re controlled areas by adults with security. I don’t think moving it from 200 [to] 1,000 [feet] changes anything. It’s just politicizing the issue,” Bouchat said.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said he didn’t think reverting back to 1,000 feet would be a “good move.”
The commissioners compromised and agreed on 400 feet.
Nonconforming use deadline extended
The commissioners voted 3-2 to extend the deadline at which a nonconforming use would expire by one year.
Citizens previously voiced concerns about the rezoning proposal restricting nonconforming uses. Any building, structure, premises or lawfully existing use at the time of the zoning regulations’ adoption may continue to exist as a nonconforming use in its zoning district, according to the county’s zoning.
Jay Voight, county zoning administrator, told the commissioners a nonconforming use expires after one year of non-use, such as when a business closes.
For example, a vehicle repair shop that exists in an industrial district that is converted to a commercial district could continue operation in that newly zoned district as long as the shop continues to run. However, if the shop closed and the owner did not sell it within a year, their property would no longer be zoned industrial and must then conform to commercial district regulations.
Property owners do have the option to apply for a one-year extension to remain nonconforming, according to Voight.
Eisenberg said nonconforming uses, by definition, are not part of the planning vision. Eventually, they cease to exist and the entire zone will conform, as the county envisioned, she said.
Some commissioners took issue with the time limit of one year — or two years, with an extension. Rothstein said it can take years sometimes for a business owner to sell a property. He suggested eliminating the deadline and allowing the Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals to grant extensions of various lengths on a case-by-case basis.
Tom Devilbiss, county director of land and resource management, strongly recommended against leaving the extension open-ended, as it would complicate the work for staff.
Frazier made a motion to extend the nonconforming use expiration date to two years of non-use, with the ability to apply for a one-year extension. The motion passed, with Wantz and Rothstein opposed. Frazier, Bouchat, and Richard Weaver, R-District 2, voted in favor.
Carroll County Breaking News
The commissioners also agreed to change the rezoning proposal to permit shops for service, repair or sale of farm equipment in the Industrial-1 District. The rezoning previously proposed prohibiting this use in that district.
A representative of John Deere dealerships made a plea for this change at the Oct. 3 afternoon hearing. The Freedom District Citizens Association (FDCA) also made this request, according to the comments packet.
Finch Services Inc., which runs two John Deere dealerships in Carroll, was worried the new zoning would prevent it from selling farm equipment, attorney John Maguire said earlier this month. While the dealerships would be able to continue to sell farm equipment under the new zoning, that would change if the businesses want to expand, Maguire said at the hearing.
Upon hearing this concern and that of FDCA, the planning team revisited the proposed change and recommended the commissioners alter it to permit such a use, planning manager Mary Lane said.
The commissioners also altered the proposal to permit by conditional use vehicle sales in the I-1 District, subject to an acreage limitation that will be decided in a future work session.
None of the changes the commissioners made to the proposal will be effective until after the board approves the comprehensive rezoning plan.
The next rezoning work session date has yet to be scheduled.