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Havre de Grace passes ordinances on annexation, residential office district uses

Two ordinances, one which updates Havre de Grace’s more than 20-year-old annexation policies and procedures, and another that revises the types of structures permitted by conditional use in residential office districts, were recently adopted by the City Council.

The council first adopted, unanimously, Ordinance 1028 during its meeting Feb. 3. The ordinance is “a rewrite” of city annexation policy laid out via council resolution adopted in 1997, according to Councilman James Ringsaker.

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“What we’re doing here is creating our standards we want within the city, because the old code and the wording and the paperwork that’s required are not relevant to our current needs,” Ringsaker said.

Ordinance 1028 came about as city officials determined annexation policies and procedures need to be updated. As an example, current policies “caused some confusion” during the recent annexation of 8.83 acres at 1921 Pulaski Highway where the mixed-use Blenheim Run project will be developed, according to a memo from Shane Grimm, deputy director of planning.

The new code Chapter 204 codifies “a clear procedure and submittal requirements for future annexations to the City” and sets out a clear process for those participating in an annexation, such as attorneys, citizens, developers and property owners according to Grimm’s memo.

Section A in the ordinance sets policy, stating that the city will oversee annexations of land “contiguous and adjacent to the corporate limits” of Havre de Grace in accordance with principles such as consistency with the city’s development plans, the city’s ability to provide services to the property and that the annexation does not create an “adverse fiscal impact” for the city.

The annexation must, overall, promote the “health, safety, welfare and economic development of the City,” according to the ordinance. The final principle in Section A states that the petitioner, or one who seeks annexation by the city, cannot amend or change their petition once it is accepted by the City Council.

Section B covers procedures, such as a requirement that an annexation petition be signed by the property owner and contract purchaser and contain a detailed description of the property — the section lists multiple details which must be included such as who owns, has an interest in and resides on the property, as well as its topographical features, legal boundaries and current zoning.

The petitioner must submit a detailed concept plan if major improvements are planned such as pubic roads or other infrastructure. They also must provide details on the development project’s fiscal impact, which municipal services are needed for the property, a list of any “unique” archaeological, historical and institutional features of the property, and other factors.

The petitioner is required to host a community informational meeting within 45 days, before the date they file their request. The city planning and public works directors hold a preliminary review with the petitioner or their representative within 90 days after documents are filed.

The city’s planning commission then reviews the petition and hears comments from the public. The commission sends its recommendation to the City Council within 60 days of the commission meeting.

The City Council then takes over the process by adopting an annexation plan and introducing an annexation resolution — the resolution is subject to a public hearing. The council, which can put “conditions and restrictions” in the resolution, also enters an annexation agreement with the petitioner or petitioners.

Next, the City Council holds a public hearing on the annexation agreement ahead of its final approval of the agreement and annexation resolution. Copies of the agreement must be available to the public at Havre de Grace City Hall before the public hearing.

The agreement takes effect once the council gives its final approval of the resolution. The six-member council approves annexations by majority vote, and the body can reject a petition “for any reason,” according to the ordinance.

Ringsaker offered amendments to Ordinance 1028 during the Feb. 3 meeting, a number of “friendly amendments” with clerical changes to the ordinance’s language, and several “substantive” amendments as well. Those substantive amendments, in Section C of the ordinance, were recommended by City Attorney April Ishak, according to Ringsaker.

A key portion of the substantive amendments applies to situations where the mayor and council “legislatively initiate” an annexation. City leaders must get consent from at least 25% of the registered voters living in the annexation area, as well as the owners of at least 25% of the assessed valuation of real property in that area.

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The rest of the amendments lay out additional policies and procedures for an annexation initiated by the city.

The council approved, unanimously, all of Ringsaker’s amendments, and members unanimously approved Ordinance 1028 as amended.

Conditional uses revised

The next piece of legislation, Ordinance 1029, calls for removing multi-family dwelling units and rooming houses from the list of conditional uses — those approved by the city’s Board of Appeals — that are permitted in residential office zoning districts. Such RO districts typically allow a mix of business and residential uses.

Most of Havre de Grace’s RO district is along Union Avenue in the downtown area, according to Ringsaker.

“It’s to mirror our comprehensive plan and the development that we want to see within the city,” he said of the ordinance, noting existing multi-family dwellings and rooming houses are grandfathered into the revised regulations.

“I fully support it, and I think it’s a good addition to our ordinances,” Ringsaker said.

Ordinance 1029 was approved unanimously — the remaining permitted conditional uses in RO districts include single-family houses, attached and detached, townhouses, cottages, health care centers, schools, public utility facilities, churches, parking areas, home-based businesses, as well as a number of uses happening in buildings constructed before March 15, 1982.

Those include antique shops, art shops/galleries, arts and craft stores, bed-and-breakfasts, corporate housing, flower shops, gift shops and restaurants, according to the ordinance.

Grimm, the deputy planning director, thanked council members for passing the ordinances, especially the annexation ordinance.

“That really gives a clear direction to property owners and developers that may be looking to annex their properties into the city, so that will be a good change for our code,” he said.

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