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For Carroll County officials, 'the intent is not to cause angst' with comprehensive rezoning

J Brooks Leahy, a partner with Dulany, Leahy, Curtis & Brophy LLP, spoke at one of Carroll County's public outreach meetings on comprehensive rezoning on Tuesday, March 26.
J Brooks Leahy, a partner with Dulany, Leahy, Curtis & Brophy LLP, spoke at one of Carroll County's public outreach meetings on comprehensive rezoning on Tuesday, March 26. (Jennifer Turiano/Carroll County Times)

The Carroll County Planning Department spent the majority of its Tuesday evening public outreach meeting reassuring residents that they will not be kicked out of their homes and that their businesses can stay open.

The meeting was one of two held this week to share information on the comprehensive rezoning taking place across Carroll County to update the zoning code for the first time since the mid-1960s.

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“One thing you need to understand with this process is no actual rezoning is happening here tonight,” Tom Devilbiss, Land and Resource Management department director, told the crowd of more than 100 residents at the county government building on Tuesday.

The county’s zoning for industrial, commercial and employment campus districts is being updated by eliminating old designations and renaming them — but their main use remains, he said, with minor adjustments.

“This process happening right now is not changing zoning on your property, it’s changing classification in that zone,” Devilbiss said.

So a change like Business-Neighborhood Retail and Business General being changed to Commercial-Low, Commercial-Medium and Commercial-High will not affect what residents are currently doing on the properties in those zones — they can continue existing uses, like living in homes in those zones and operating businesses as usual, he explained.

The same would apply for a change from Industrial-Restricted and Industrial-General to I-1 and I-2.

It will just make the use “nonconforming.”

Planning Dept. Director Lynda Eisenberg explained to residents what the proposed comprehensive rezoning for commercial, industrial and employment campuses is proposed, March 2019.
Planning Dept. Director Lynda Eisenberg explained to residents what the proposed comprehensive rezoning for commercial, industrial and employment campuses is proposed, March 2019. (Jennifer Turiano)
Nonconforming uses

In the case of Avtar Athwal and his family, they learned their Hampstead business, DMI Trucking, will no longer be a permitted use in the I-R zone where it’s located.

“We own a small trucking company,” he said at the Tuesday meeting, “and now they’re changing to I-1, and under that section it said trucking is prohibited for commercial.”

“If this [draft] stays as it is, it would become a nonconforming use,” Planning Director Lynda Eisenberg told him. “You can still operate your business, it would just not be conforming to the new district.”

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, asked if Athwal could expand his business if he wanted to.

Eisenberg said he can. Anyone trying to expand a nonconforming use can do so — to an extent — but must fill out all the proper applications through the county.

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, asked if there were any consequences to having a nonconforming use — as some members of the crowd were asking among themselves.

“The only consequence with a nonconforming use is if you stop using it for that use,” said Jay Voight, county zoning administrator.

“For example, the trucking company, they can continue to use that forever,” he said. “However, if for some reason they stop using it and move and the property is not used for trucking anymore, after a year that use would disappear and you couldn’t do it anymore.

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It would have to be conforming to what the zone allows, Voight said, “and in I-1, trucking is a conditional use so they could reapply for that use.”

The same principle can apply to changing uses in other zones.

Carroll County residents view a tutorial of how the interactive map on the county website works at a public outreach meeting for comprehensive rezoning, March 2019.
Carroll County residents view a tutorial of how the interactive map on the county website works at a public outreach meeting for comprehensive rezoning, March 2019. (Jennifer Turiano)
A work in progress

Devilbiss recognized there were some mapping errors in the notices that were sent out to property owners, and he encouraged residents to reach out to the planning department if they find any of those notices or have questions about specific properties.

But for the most part, designations are not changing drastically with the rezoning, officials say.

“If your property was always commercially zoned, you are going to stay commercially zoned,” Devilbiss said. “It shouldn’t be changing from business to residential.

“This is a major undertaking across the county,” he said. “There are mistakes that have been made … It’s a huge undertaking; people need to have some patience, work with our staff individually. We can work it out if you’ll have some patience and work with us.”

Some residents asked what the county would do about contamination, conservation, and properties that were zoned inappropriately or split-zoned.

County staff explained that for individual issues, residents can come to the planning department to look more closely at properties — and changes will not affect existing regulations that handle conservation and contamination, separate from zoning.

“The intent is not to cause the angst I’m hearing,” Rothstein said, “that there’s a concern you're not allowed to do the business or live in the place you live right now. That's absolutely not true.”

“The intent is you will remain where you're living, doing the business that you're doing regardless of what you're zoned now,” he said. “It may be nonconforming, but the intent is you stay and we do not change the usage of what you're doing.”

The planning department will meet with the Board of County Commissioners after a future public hearing is scheduled to ensure the language and maps for the comprehensive rezoning draft are suitable for them to continue the process and begin working on residential and agricultural zones, Rothstein said.

“[These meetings were] designed to familiarize the community with our intent and process,” Rothstein told the Times after the meeting, “then take the time to listen and learn from them — as their input is the most valuable — so we can lead together in developing the best comprehensive rezoning to keep with our vision of Carroll County.

“Next steps will be developing the residential zoning and ensuring we crosswalk with the other rezoning efforts to ensure the most comprehensive and holistic approach.”

There is no definitive timeline to have the new zoning adopted, but Eisenberg said the county is hopeful this section can be completed this summer after the county commissioners adopt the fiscal year 2020 budget in May.

“Keep in mind this is comprehensive rezoning,” Weaver said. “This is one little piece, and to see how this affects residential and agricultural [zones], that's not even a part of this yet. It’s almost too big an animal to undertake. Right here we are taking it in pieces, and then putting it all together.”

The Tuesday meeting was recorded and available for viewing online on the Carroll County Government YouTube page.

Drafts of the proposed text amendment for the commercial, industrial and employment campus districts — one showing edits, and one without — as well as an explanatory companion document, interactive map of affected properties, and space for residents to provide comments, is available on the website: www.carrollrezoning.org.

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