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Carroll County’s Board of Commissioners raised the comprehensive rezoning fee by 540% after county planning staff noted that the fee does not come close to covering the cost incurred to process such requests.

The fee to request a zoning change increases from $125 to $800 after Thursday’s 3-2 vote.

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Zoning districts designate what can be built where and typically group together property that fulfills particular uses, such as commercial, agricultural, or residential. Carroll County Government has been in the process of overhauling its zoning code, the regulations that govern zoning, since 2015. On Dec. 12, the commissioners adopted comprehensive rezoning for the commercial/industrial/employment campus — one phase of the rezoning process.

Following this vote, planning director Lynda Eisenberg came to the commissioners on Dec. 19 to present the next steps in the process and requested commissioners increase the comprehensive rezoning fee. Citizens pay a fee and submit an application if they want to request that their property be zoned differently than it already is, according to Eisenberg. There are certain costs that come with processing an application, such as the cost to advertise public hearings, create signs and maps, mail letters, and pay staff, Eisenberg told the commissioners.

Eisenberg said Thursday the time and resources staff spend to process a comprehensive rezoning application is equivalent to about $1,165, and so the $125 fee does little to cover the cost.

Rather than make a decision Dec. 19, the commissioners decided to push the vote back to January. Eisenberg informed the commissioners Thursday that other counties have much higher comprehensive rezoning fees. Baltimore County charges $1,000 to $1,600 per application, Harford County charges $800, and Anne Arundel County charges $1,200, she said.

“Folks are getting a heck of a deal,” said Stephen Wantz, R-District 1.

Commissioners Eric Bouchat, R-District 4; Dennis Frazier, R-District 3; and Wantz voted to increase the fee. Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, and Richard Weaver, R-District 2, voted against the change.

Rothstein seemed to support the increase, but did not want to approve it Thursday. He and Weaver wanted to wait and consider increasing the fee during the budget process.

“I’m not against the intent here. I think the timing is wrong,” Rothstein said.

Frazier and Rothstein said the low fee means taxpayers are burdened with subsidizing the costs associated with applications, making everyone pay for something benefiting a few.

“I just think the rest of the taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize what you want to do,” Frazier said.

Eisenberg noted that $125 is likely a relatively small fee to a business, while $800 “makes you think about it a little more,” so maybe the county would get more serious applications. She said in an interview the county hasn’t had a comprehensive rezoning request in several years, but told the commissioners the planning department is sending letters to roughly 50 property owners that may want to consider the option.

After paying the fee and submitting an application, a property owner’s request goes to the Department of Planning for review, then to the planning commission, which decides whether to move the request forward to the Board of Commissioners with a favorable or unfavorable opinion, Eisenberg said in an interview. Finally, the commissioners decide on a case-by-case basis whether to grant the applicant’s request.

The planning staff’s intent is for this avenue to be used for properties that are zoned differently from the Carroll County Master Plan and Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan, Eisenberg said. These plans outline the county’s vision for growth, and in those plans some properties are zoned differently in the future than they are now.

Property owners do not have to align their zoning to these plans, but if they want to they must fill out an application and pay the fee, Eisenberg said. Paying and applying does not guarantee an application would be approved.

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The deadline to apply for properties in the commercial/industrial/employment campus is Feb. 7, according to Eisenberg. Deadlines for properties zoned residential and agricultural will come later. Eisenberg said the application and more information will be posted on the county website next week and forms will also be available at the Department of Planning in the county office building at 225 North Center St., Westminster.

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