Council tightens zoning rules

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Builders and property owners will no longer be allowed to tear down older homes and build on underlying lots that are not large enough to meet current zoning requirements.

The Anne Arundel County Council approved a bill Monday night that corrects a quirk in the zoning code that had frustrated community associations for years - especially in older waterfront neighborhoods that have grown increasingly popular.

In many communities, such as Cape St. John and Bay Ridge, neighbors have watched as modest homes that straddled old lot lines were torn down and several homes were built in their stead.

Albert M. Johnston, chairman of the Greater Severna Park Council's planning and zoning committee, said neighbors have watched three-story homes built on narrow lots in communities of mostly ranch homes.

Squeezed onto small lots platted out before county zoning was adopted in 1952, the homes often are awkward and don't fit in, Johnston said. Some have elicited squabbles over water views, too.

"A builder comes in and maximizes his investment and leaves the community with an eyesore," Johnston said.

Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, who has been working to change the law for several years, said allowing homes to be built on lots smaller than allowed under current zoning "defeats the very purpose of trying to manage your growth."

This was Samorajczyk's third attempt to change the law and she thinks it passed this time because it was simpler than previous versions. The bill, which merges substandard lots that have overlapping structures, passed 6 to 0 with one council member absent.

"It requires that current zoning be respected," Samorajczyk said.

The legislation follows the standards set by a 1999 Court of Appeals case out of Baltimore County, said county Planning Officer Joseph W. Rutter Jr., who, along with County Executive Janet S. Owens, backed the change. The Baltimore County land-use case said, in effect, that lots with overlapping structures should be considered a single merged lot.

Under the new Anne Arundel County law, adjacent substandard lots with existing accessory structures, such as sheds or driveways, would not be automatically merged. However, property owners who add such a structure in the future would be required to consolidate lots.

The new law will not affect substandard lots that lack public water and sewer or have access to one or the other. County law already requires such lots to be combined in an effort to meet modern zoning code for lot size.

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