Anne Arundel County is a wonderful place, which is why more people want to come here to live and work. However, an increasing population puts stress on our schools, roads and public safety. To manage these stresses, our administration is committed to smart growth in areas with adequate infrastructure and to preservation of our rural lands.
We have now commenced the once-every-decade general development planning process. As we undertake this process, we hear frequently from citizens who are grappling with changing communities, traffic congestion and crowded schools. We hear their concerns and are committed to addressing them.
We have already instituted several reforms to better manage development and to strengthen the county’s planning processes. To date, we have nearly completed the county’s comprehensive Transportation Master Plan, accelerated the frequency of general development planning by reducing the timetable from 10 years to eight, and instituted a moratorium on solar parks in rural lands.
We have also conducted seven listening sessions in every corner of the county and are soliciting comments online. And I was delighted to sign County Councilman John Grasso’s bill to suspend development in crowded school districts.
These reforms are good first steps, but we need to go further.
To that end, we will be submitting legislation to the council to place a moratorium on up-zonings in Anne Arundel County until the submission of the General Development Plan. Such a moratorium is an important and customary component of a high-quality planning process.
We also intend to submit a charter amendment that will require our Office of Planning and Zoning Department to certify that a proposed zoning change is consistent with the land-use designation for that parcel in the GDP. This will give the GDP more teeth.
With respect to the GDP itself, we plan to submit legislation that will mandate a multi-year, small-area planning process every eight years to commence immediately after adoption of the plan and comprehensive rezoning. This reform will ensure that small-area plans do not become outdated and will give local communities more frequent input into the planning process.
Next, we need to tighten the processes for variances and special exceptions. Accordingly, I have asked our land-use departments to implement several needed reforms.
They include applying a stricter standard in determining whether an application meets code requirements, expanding the area of notification surrounding a proposed variance, ensuring that no one will be caught by surprise, and developing a system of administrative waivers for simple, noncontroversial site improvements. Our overall goal is to reduce the number of granted variances by 50 percent.
Similarly for special exceptions, we must ensure our planning professionals are applying the strictest of standards when assessing the appropriateness of these requests.
A final area of concern is development plan modifications, whereby the planning and zoning officer has the authority to grant waivers from the specific requirements of the code. Most of the modifications granted annually are appropriate, such as requests that facilitate more green space or reduce environmental impact. But many are not appropriate. That is why I have instructed county officials to implement a stricter review process for modification requests and to certify that an approved modification meets the requirements set forth in the code.
I have also instructed the planning and zoning officer to no longer issue modifications that would allow applicants to skip the requirement to hold a public meeting. My goal is to achieve a 40 percent reduction in granted modifications.
Taken together, I believe these reforms and new procedures will bring more rigor to our zoning, variance, special exception and modification processes, will slow development and will improve our management of the county’s lands and waterways.
Steve Schuh is Anne Arundel County executive. Contact him at email@example.com.