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Aberdeen council mulls role in Rt. 7 rezoning

The Aberdeen Cityl Council is mulling its role in a rezoning request for properties along Route 7.
The Aberdeen Cityl Council is mulling its role in a rezoning request for properties along Route 7. (Bryna Zumer | Aegis staff)

The Aberdeen City Council is mulling the role its members would have to play as a semi-judicial body when deciding whether to rezone two parcels off of Old Philadelphia Road for industrial use.

While the council generally sits as a legislative body, "in this particular case with rezoning, you are acting as a quasi-judicial body and you must approach this requirement slightly differently," City Manager Doug Miller said at a Monday work session.

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The owners of two parcels across from Walmart, known as the Pomeroy properties, are asking the city to rezone the sites to allow for M1, light industrial use.

In a recent presentation, the family tried to show the council that rezoning the sites from M2 in 2009 was a mistake. In order for the rezoning to be approved now, there must be proof of either a mistake in the zoning or a substantial change in the character of the neighborhood.

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Sitting as quasi-judges, the council may only review the evidence submitted: the Pomeroys' presentation, unapproved minutes from a March public hearing, a staff report from Planning and Community Development Director Phyllis Grover on the history of zoning at the site and the minutes of a planning commission meeting in February that recommended approving the zoning change, Miller said.

The parcels, totaling about 38 acres, have at least one historical property, "but the site has always been used as agriculture and farmed over the years," Grover said.

Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young wondered about the zoning of other properties nearby. Grover said a nearby proposed retail area, as well as the Home2 Suites hotel, are zoned B3.

"There is a mix of M1 and B3 uses along that Maryland 7/715 area," Grover said.

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Miller clarified the council would need to keep their focus on the evidence and whether it shows a mistake was made in granting B3 zoning.

Councilman Stephen Smith seemed skeptical about the Pomeroys' request, wondering: "Every time a piece of property doesn't sell the way someone wants to, are we going to go through this song and dance with rezoning?"

Several council members replied that would not be the case. Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said the point is that a change in the economic climate does not equate to a mistake in zoning.

Landbeck argued with the Pomeroys presentation, which she said assumed they knew the reason the planning commission originally changed the zoning for BRAC-related reasons in 2009.

Miller, however, said the burden of proof is with the applicants and the council must take the presentation at face value, without bringing in any new evidence.

Flood insurance caps

Also at the work session, Grover said a review of the county's flood maps is underway.

The county will hold an open house Thursday to let the public view newly-updated Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps. FEMA representatives, as well as those from Harford County and municipalities, will be on hand to answer questions about flood insurance options and the flood maps.

The meeting will run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Harford Community College.

Grover said the city has many properties that pay flood insurance and Aberdeen has flood insurance caps that have not been updated since 2000.

She said letters and postcards went out to residents about the meeting, noting it is the county's first such meeting. The city will have its own table at the event.

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