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Ordinance allowing mixed-used developments in Havre de Grace commercial districts passed by council

Mixed-use developments can be built in commercial zones in Havre de Grace, following the recent passage of an ordinance by the City Council, making the necessary changes to the city zoning code.

The council unanimously passed Ordinance 1026 after members approved multiple amendments to the legislation during its Dec. 16 meeting.

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The approval of the ordinance happened after the council voted during its Dec. 2 meeting, to annex 8.83 acres at 1921 Pulaski Highway, a property slated for the proposed Blenheim Run mixed-use project being developed by Green Street Housing in Salisbury.

Deputy Planning Director Shane Grimm said he is “really happy to move forward,” noting the adoption of the most recent ordinance “really moves us in a new direction for the city.”

“In 2020 it looks like we’re going to have a lot of projects come to life, and that’s really exciting for the city and good news,” Grimm said.

Ordinance 1026 sets out the requirements for mixed-use projects in commercial corridors, with the stated purpose of creating opportunities for developments that “mix multifamily residential uses with retail trade, service and institutional uses, with an emphasis on creativity, quality design and in close proximity to mass transit within the C/Commercial district.”

To be eligible, developments must be built on parcels that are at least 5 acres — smaller parcels can be combined to meet the minimum size requirement — plus, the property must be served by municipal water and sewer and it must have “direct access” to either Route 40 or Route 7, according to the ordinance.

Separate structures can be established for commercial use and multi-family housing, plus hotels are permitted, or commercial and residential can occupy the same building with commercial activity permitted on the first floor of a building.

Industrial uses are prohibited, along with a number of specific commercial uses, such as adult entertainment, auto repair, storing and shipping flammable or other hazardous materials, tobacco products or vape shops, convenience stores, restaurants that have drive-through windows, liquor sales, methadone clinics, medical marijuana dispensaries, pawn shops and others, according to the ordinance.

Residential development is limited to 15 units per “gross acre,” and at least 10 percent of the land must be reserved for open space — half of the dedicated open space has to be “active open space” with facilities such as paved walking trails and courts for recreational sports.

Parking, according to one of many amendments introduced by Councilman James Ringsaker, is set at two spaces per multi-family unit. Grimm emphasized, in response to a question from Council President David Glenn, that the two-space requirement is only for mixed-use projects in commercial districts.

Councilwoman Casi Boyer also addressed the parking requirement, asking if developers of other residential projects might seek permission to get their parking reduced to two spaces per unit.

“The mixed-use project is a very specific, unique type of project, and I don’t think it would be relevant to any other residential projects that would be out there,” Grimm replied.

Glenn later recommended striking another subsection in the parking section of the ordinance, a subsection that allowed the Planning Commission to approve a reduction in parking spaces for units designed for senior citizens or people with disabilities. The commission could go to one space for a one-bedroom unit and two spaces for all other types of units.

The council president recommended striking that subsection in light of Ringsaker’s amendment that two parking spaces per unit are required, noting that “we just pretty much said it was two spaces.” Grimm said he would no object to removing it, “since we’re going to two spaces per unit for overall, just to make [the language] clean and easy.”

More amendments

Ringsaker also put forth amendments making 11 specific changes to the wording of the ordinance, such as correcting punctuation errors, changing words, shifting subsections around, changing residential building height limits from five stories to 50 feet and increasing the ratio of street trees to parking spaces from five spaces per tree to 10 — the final amendment in that group changed the ratio of trees planted along roads and driveways in the development from 30 feet of roadway per tree to 40 feet.

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Council members unanimously approved those amendments, and they approved another standalone amendment to the requirement for paving a parking area. Ringsaker’s amendment called for going from using just impervious surfaces for paving to using pervious surface "or a combination of impervious and pervious surfaces as authorized by the directors of planning and public works.”

Ringsaker explained, in response to a question from Councilman Jason Robertson, that pervious paving materials allow stormwater to drain into the ground rather than flow off the pavement into nearby waterways.

“It allows newer technology, pervious surfaces, to allow water drainage,” Ringsaker said.

The final amendment, recommended by Grimm, changed the numbers used to identify which in which section of the zoning code the mixed-use development requirements would fit. The ordinance initially designated the code section as 205-39.

Grimm said mixed use development in commercial corridors should be designated Section 205-37.1, putting it between Section 205-37 (conditional uses) and Section 205-38 (accessory uses and structures).

“That makes it flow nicely within that section,” Grimm said.

Grimm later thanked Ringsaker for putting forth the multiple amendments, as many were “cleanups” for the ordinance’s language. He also thanked planning department staff and leaders for their work in 2019, as it has been a busy year, and he expects 2020 to be busy as well.

“It’s been a very busy year for the Department of Planning, and we couldn’t get it done without all hands on deck,” Grimm said.

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