The new year is here. This time marks a fresh start for many; a time of new beginnings and putting away the trials and tribulations of the last year. For the Anne Arundel County Council, 2024 means the introduction of the eagerly anticipated first round of comprehensive rezoning for our county.
Comprehensive rezoning is the follow-up to the approved and recommended land use in Plan 2040, or the General Development Plan (GDP), that was passed in 2019. By law, the GDP and rezoning must be done once every eight years, but the process has been delayed considerably due to shutdowns in 2020.
For comprehensive rezoning, the county is divided into nine regions. Three of the nine regions will be reviewed at a time. The review process for zoning applications includes discussion and recommendations by the Stakeholders Advisory Committee, a group made up of appointed community members, business owners, environmentalists, developers and others who reside in the region under review. The Planning Advisory Board, a group of seven community members appointed by the county executive, with a vote by the county council, then review the same applications, hold public testimony and make recommendations on each zoning application.
The Office of Planning and Zoning will then compile all of these, including their own recommendations, into a supplementary document that will coincide with the rezoning bill for each region.
In the initial group of three regions that will come before the council is Region 4, consisting of most of our district (the Severna Park, Millersville and Broadneck area).
What is a zoning change? A change in zoning means that a property is either requesting a more intensive use of the existing zoning category (residential, commercial, industrial, marina) or changing entirely from one category of zoning to another. No two applications are the same; the circumstances of each property are nuanced in their request. It is also possible that a property owner can request to be downzoned – but this rarely, if ever, happens.
While there is an opportunity for property owners to apply for a zoning change during the legislative process (during the bill’s deliberation period before the council), most properties that the council will consider for rezoning have gone through this multistep process. The council will be tasked with making the final decision on each application. The unpleasant reality is that in some cases, this process pits neighbor against neighbor and the council will be tasked with being both judge and jury, or that is what it may feel like.
In preparation for this important and impactful work, it became clear to me that the council was going to face challenging decisions due to the age of our zoning code, and the limitations that exist and have not kept up with the way each zoning category has changed over the years. Two specific areas stood out to me, our small business district (SBD) zone and our marina zones.
I have introduced two bills that are intended to improve each of these categories, the Small Business District Bill and the Neighborhood Marina Bill. Bill 92-23, the SBD bill, slightly expands the size that is allowed and the types of businesses that can exist in an SBD, along with loosening some architectural requirements for SBDs located on higher classified roadways.
Small businesses are often faced with refinancing for improvements or necessary maintenance. Banks typically do not look favorably at a business requesting financing when they are located on land that is not zoned for commercial use. Requesting commercial zoning can be challenging. There is understandable concern from residents of over-commercializing areas that have a low commercial, more residential feel. The small business district laws, as they stand, aren't a viable option either. The code greatly limits the size and type of a business that is considered appropriate for this zoning designation.
The concept of a small business district began with one of my predecessors, so it seems almost fitting to update it so that it works for businesses and surrounding communities in 2024 and beyond.
The Marina Bill adds a new category of marina zoning, as a large gap exists between our lower marina zone (MA1) and the next intensive marina zone (MA2).
MA1 zoned properties are marinas that are owned and operated by a homeowners’ association, have riparian rights and are available only to community members. MA2, the next level of marina zoning, allows for commercial marinas, including lodging, gas stations, restaurants, pubs, etc.
If a small neighborhood marina that rents boat slips only for piers needs to change its zoning in order to improve its property and/or conform to our county code, it has only MA1 and MA2 as an option. If it is not a community marina, MA1 isn’t an option. The potential intensity of MA2 causes obvious concerns for neighbors. Bill 3-24 adds MA1-B to the county code. MA1-B, as proposed, gives the ability for these marinas to be designated as a small neighborhood marina with limited pier slips for commercial use on marinas of three acres or less. No restaurants. No pubs. No gas stations.
These bills, if passed, won't solve every circumstance the council will consider, but they will improve our options for finding the best solution for everyone.
Please share your thoughts with me on these and other matters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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