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Harford property owners can begin requesting zoning changes Monday

Harford County property owners can began submitting requests for rezoning on Monday, Dec. 12, under the countywide comprehensive zoning review process which is getting underway.

The application process closes Feb. 10.

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The County Council passed legislation on Oct. 4 which set the comprehensive review process in motion and suspended all piecemeal zoning requests for 18 months while the process takes place. The legislation took effect on Dec. 5.

Based on previous comprehensive reviews, the last occurring in 2008-09, several hundred requests are likely.

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Because many changes that will be considered could lead to future residential and commercial development across the county, such reviews typically generate controversy, particularly in communities directly impacted.

Any property owner can request a rezoning, to more intense use, or less. Those requests will in turn be reviewed by the county Department of Planning and Zoning, a five-member citizen Planning Advisory Board and, ultimately, the Harford County Council, which has the final approval on each one.

In addition, the director of planning can recommend changing the zoning of a property whose owner does not request such a change. In such instances, all adjoining property owners must be notified of the proposed change by mail, at least 30 days before the public hearing on the director's final report conducted by the county.

The ability of the county to make a recommendation that has not been requested is allowed in the process, Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for County Executive Barry Glassman, said.

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"In the interest of transparency, we have outlined the entire process and this is part of the process that has existed, but that's not to say we have a list of properties that we are intending at this point to recommend for rezoning," Mumby said.

She explaining that and other aspects of the comprehensive process are outlined in the "frequently asked questions" posted with other information on the county web site. She gave an example of where there might be "an anomaly in zoning of a property relative to the surrounding area." Still, she added, "there is no hard line on that we would review that" and any such review would not occur until notifications to and discussions with the property owner.

"It's a complicated process and, at the direction of the county executive, we are trying to be as transparent as possible," Mumby added.

In some past comprehensive reviews, county officials have either declined to consider a zoning change without the property owner's consent or have canceled any such proposed changes, if the owner objects. Ultimately, Mumby said, the County Council could choose to take such a position, since it will have the final say on approving all individual zoning changes.

By law, the comprehensive review must take place every eight years. The adoption of the HarfordNEXT master plan this summer was a prelude to this process. The updating of the master plan sets land use categories upon which future zoning changes, including during the comprehensive process, are evaluated.

Detailed information on the process and how to apply for a zoning change can be found at www.harfordcountymd.gov/2001/2017-Comprehensive-Zoning-Review.

The required application form and owner authorization letter form are available on the website. The application must be taken to the Department of Planning and Zoning in person, not mailed. The phone numbers to call to make an appointment are 410-638-3119 or 410-638-320.

In addition, this year the county will set up one of its "Track It" apps on the web page, so the public can follow applications and proposed and final changes to the zoning maps in real time. The app is scheduled to go live on Monday.

"Again, the tracker application is planned by the county executive and his administration to make the process more transparent with information easily accessible online," Mumby said.

Another change in the process this year compared to previous reviews is the cost to apply.

While each zoning change application will cost $800, the cost of applying will be reduced significantly for people who own several contiguous parcels or lots – up to 25 – with the same zoning and are requesting that the new zoning be the same for all of them, according to the county. They can submit a single application for the single fee.

Planning Director Bradley Killian told the county council Tuesday night that prior requirements that each change required a separate application and fee "goes against the intent" of providing an opportunity to request rezoning, particularly on larger parcels that may already have building lots platted on them.

Separate applications will still be required, if a single parcel has split zoning, or if multiple zoning changes are requested for a single parcel.

Mumby said the reason they want people to submit their rezoning applications in person is to ensure they are making a proper and appropriate request, "so they won't do something off the mark." Given the cost of applying, she said, it makes sense to have the request reviewed before people pay the fee.

The county administration has up to 365 days from Monday to complete its review of the applications and submit its recommendations to the County Council. Mumby said the estimated timeline for submission to the council is next September to October.

Any changes the council wants to make to what is recommended by the administration must be voted upon as individual issues, the county web site notes.

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