In the next 11 months, the newly appointed work group that will undertake revising the county's rezoning code will tackle a 4-inch-thick document that has not been significantly altered in 25 years.
The panel of 24 people, all Harford residents, will work with county officials and planners, with assistance from a consultant, to rewrite the document that determines how land is used throughout the county.
County Executive David R. Craig has said he wants the zoning code updated to bring regulations in line with modern design standards. The code revision precedes another round of comprehensive rezoning, which was abandoned last year.
Conducted about every eight years, the rezoning process culminated most recently when Craig made his land-use recommendations nearly 18 months ago to the previous County Council. But Craig vetoed the version the council sent back, saying the amendments allowed too much growth outside the county's designated development area, around Bel Air and along U.S. 40.
With the rezoning process shelved, Craig pushed for an overhaul of the code, but the council rejected a request for $25,000 for a revision. Hundreds of property owners have had to wait while their rezoning petitions have been put on hold, or forced to go through a time-consuming appeals process.
Craig, who was voted into the job in November along with a new council, has vowed to end the stalemate by pushing ahead with the revision.
"The county executive is committed to revisiting the zoning code and completely rehabbing it, wherever necessary," said Robert B. Thomas, county spokesman. "With no comprehensive update in 25 years, we have a piecemeal work that is cumbersome and often contradictory. It is not helpful to citizens or government."
With Harford expected to swell by as many as 60,000 residents over the next decade as a result of expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground, officials say the planning and zoning process is crucial.
To assist in the effort, the county has awarded a $15,600 contract to Geosyntec Consultants, which handles issues related to the environment, natural resources and civil infrastructure. The firm, based in Columbia, is new to Harford with no previous involvement in the county's politics or land-use debates. That is to its advantage, said Geosyntec's facilitator Jennifer Smith.
"We are coming in with open minds and a willingness to listen," Smith said.
Smith does not expect the diverse group to gel immediately but believes the members eventually will agree on the revisions.
"We have a quick time schedule and will have to keep on track to get through the entire document," she said. "We will work for consensus on revising development and land use to reach something the whole group can support."
Members represent the county's three municipalities, the farm and business communities, as well as various interest groups. The committee, which will meet twice monthly in open sessions, is culled from diverse backgrounds, but members share a common interest in improving Harford, officials said.
Peg Niland, executive director of the Harford Land Trust, a preservation organization that is represented on the committee, said she is placing her confidence in the number of conservation-minded people who are participating.
"I hope their input will be considered and weighed fairly," Niland said. "Preserved open spaces are a tremendous value to the development industry."
Susie Comer, group member and owner of a construction company, said she is optimistic but does not expect agreement on all the issues.
"If everybody had the same ideas, we probably would not need a rewrite," Comer said. "I was born and raised here and work here. I only want what is best for Harford County. I think everyone in this group has a great appreciation for this county and will be willing to work together for its good."
The work group will begin meeting this month in the second-floor conference room of the Harford County Administrative Offices in Bel Air. The times and dates have not been set but will be posted on the county government's Web site at www.harfordcountymd.gov.
Zoning group members
Members of the Harford County Zoning Code Rewrite Group and the organizations they represent:
Susie Comer - Harford County Contractors Association
Charles Day -resident
Carol Diebel - Town of Bel Air
Sam Fiedler Jr. - Harford County Farm Bureau
Rowan G. Glidden -resident
William E. Goforth - Edgewood/Joppatowne Community Council
Frank Hertsch - Home Builders Association of Maryland
Susan B. Heselton -resident
Jeffrey K. Hettleman - Urban Land Institute
Tim Hopkins - Greater Harford Committee
Douglas Howard - Northern Community Councils
Gil Jones - City of Aberdeen
Gregory J. Kappler - resident
Michael Leaf - Harford County Bar Association
Gloria Moon - Friends of Harford
Torrence Pierce - Maryland Society of Professional Engineers
Frank Richardson - Maryland Society of Surveyors Susquehanna Chapter
Lawrason Sayre - Harford Land Trust
Chris Swain - Harford County Sheriff's Office
Jim Turner - Harford County Association of Realtors
Bill Vanden Eynden - Harford County Chamber of Commerce
Craig Ward - Greater Baltimore Committee
Marisa Willis -City of Havre de Grace
Jay Young - The Manor Conservancy