The Baltimore County Council debated two zoning bills yesterday that would restrict large-scale development on big tracts of land set aside for conservation while allowing "farmette" owners the opportunity to build on their smaller, rural acreage.
The controls were cheered by land preservationists who attended yesterday's work session in Towson, but questioned by some residents, real estate agents and homebuilders, who criticized the changes as unnecessary and too late in the county's quadrennial rezoning.
Council members are scheduled to vote on the proposals -- introduced by T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican -- at their legislative meeting Monday. They are expected to vote Aug. 31 on the hundreds of rezoning requests they've received as part of the once-every-four-years exercise in which residents can ask that any property in the county be rezoned, whether or not they own it.
"I'm trying to prevent mass development of larger tracts of land, to be more restrictive," McIntire said in an interview about his proposal to modify the resource conservation zoning classification known as RC4.
But in proposing a new resource conservation zoning classification -- called RC8 -- he said he's also trying to help the small landowner.
"Many little people out there are not big-time developers and would like to be able to develop their land -- just a little bit of land -- and develop what's affectionately become known as the 'farmette,' " he told his colleagues on the seven-member panel.
He later explained that the proposal targets landowners with fewer than 50 acres whose children might belong to 4-H and who would like to raise show pigs, sheep or horses or cultivate a small vegetable garden.
The RC8 classification would allow single-family dwellings, farms and limited-acre wholesale flower farms. It also would allow roadside farm stands, home occupations, professional offices, commercial film production facilities and swimming pools, tennis courts and other recreational amenities, as long as they are an accessory to a dwelling or residential subdivision.
The zone -- intended to be applied to forested lands, watershed areas and extensive natural acreage -- would permit developers to build one residential lot per 10 acres, but no more than four lots on any parcel larger than 50 acres.
Lawyer Robert Hoffman questioned the fairness of limiting a property owner with 5,000 acres to the same number of homes that a landowner with 50 acres can build.
The proposed changes to the RC4 zone -- intended to protect watershed land -- would restrict the number of residential lots that large landowners can develop. Under current law, landowners in the RC4 zone can develop one lot per 5 acres. A property owner with 100 acres, for instance, can divide the land into 20 residential lots.
McIntire's proposal, however, would limit landowners to building no more than four lots on any property larger than 20 acres. The bill also proposes new design standards for the zone.
Stephen R. Smith, president of Gaylord Brooks Realty Co. in Phoenix questioned the timing of the zoning proposals.
Noting that they came with too little notice in the final month of the quadrennial rezoning process, he told council members that changing the zoning classifications "in mid-play ... is not quite playing cricket."