Anne Arundel county executive looks to put zoning changes on ice

February 05, 2018

County Executive Steve Schuh announced at the County Council meeting Monday night he will be submitting legislation that would halt zoning changes until late 2019.

This legislation would halt those changes until the General Development Plan is submitted to the council in late 2019.

This decision is linked to feedback the county has heard while holding meetings on the upcoming GDP, Schuh said at the meeting.

“Over the past six months, we have engaged nearly every community as we look to map future growth in our county,” Schuh said in a statement. “As this process continues over the next two years, we must ensure we preserve the character of our communities by instituting measures to combat the forces of development.”

Stopping zoning changes won’t halt development, but developers won’t be able to intensify the density of locations where they wish to build. This doesn’t just affect zoning changes on density, the county’s plan is to stop all zoning changes, so it would impact commercial, industrial and other changes as well.

A notable project to be affected by this legislation is the stadium and mixed-use concept by the Chesapeake Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the Major League Lacrosse team the Chesapeake Bayhawks. The Bayhawks’ organization has put together a three-phase project that sprawls across the Anne Arundel County Fair and the Crownsville Hospital Center grounds. That project would require the county rezone the land. The land is owned by the state.

The halt to zoning changes was part of a slew of development-focused announcements Monday.

Included in that announcement were plans to mandate small-area planning, eliminate unnecessary modifications and reform the county’s variance process. The bills linked to each perspective change were being drafted.

For small-area planning, Schuh wants to mandate the use of small-area plans in the county’s GDP after the 2019 plan. The legislation would mandate small-area planning for a five-year period after the county passes comprehensive rezoning. Those plans would be rolled into the next GDP to be discussed in eight years, officials said.

Legislation on modifications would institute a stricter review process and reduce how often developers request modifications. It also would bar waivers on public meeting requirements.

Lastly the county executive wants to loosen the variance process for routine requests from landowners. Officials said this would free up county manpower to thoroughly evaluate variance requests that have more environmental and community consequences.

Schuh’s Democratic opponent Steuart Pittman called on him to go through with a county report on the small area development plans instead of waiting until after the GDP and comprehensive rezoning ordinance.

These plans are in year 17 out of 20 and the county should “take a realistic look at where we stand now.”

As for the zoning freeze, Pittman questioned Schuh’s commitment to reform.

“The county executive is acknowledging that his administration’s practice of passing out zoning modifications to developers irresponsibly is unpopular,” Pittman said. “Removing barriers to development has been a hallmark of his administration.”

In other business, the council passed legislation that offers an alternative retirement package for non-public safety employees. This plan vests faster than the county’s current plan but would come with lower county contributions. Employees assume responsibility for investing their funds. It was passed in a 6-1 vote with Councilman Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills, voting against the bill.

The council also passed a bill that would increase the next council’s pay over several years based on recommendations from a salary commission. That bill — sponsored by Councilman Chris Trumbauer, D- Annapolis — would increase the council chair annual salary from $40,500 to $43,350 in December 2018. It would increase up to $46,003 through December 2021. The vice chair of the council would receive increases up to $42,216 from $37,000 through 2021. And non-chair council members would jump from $36,000 to $41,311 through 2021. These increases are gradual each year. The bill was passed in a 6-1 vote with Councilman Jerry Walker, R-Crofton, voted against the bill.

Walker declined to comment on his vote but did say he “appreciated” the work of the commission.

Pruski introduced a resolution that supports state legislation changing boating regulations to prevent winterizing shrink-wrapped boats and to increase carbon monoxide education and use of detectors. That resolution passed 6-0 with one abstention by Councilman Derek Fink, R-Pasadena. Fink said he abstained because he had seen the resolution only on Monday and did not know what the state bills changed.

http://www.capitalgazette.com/news/government/ac-cn-county-council-0206-story.html