- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Debates whether to join other counties in legal action
By AMANDA HARRISON
County staff has been directed not to pursue the major subdivision exemption for areas designated by the Sustainable Growth and Preservation Act as the most rural areas.
The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners told the Department of Community Planning and Building on Oct. 23 that, after reviewing comments from the Maryland Department of Planning, the exemption would be too difficult to obtain.
The exemption states that major subdivisions served on septic systems are permitted in tier 4 areas — areas planned for preservation and conservation, zoned for protection and dominated by agriculture, forests or other natural areas — as long as the county retains a density of one dwelling unit per 20 acres. The exemption expires when the county’s density in tier 4 reaches the permitted density ratio.
“The thing that makes the most sense is to not try for the exemption,” said Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) after hearing staff’s presentation.
Previously, staff shifted parcels of 5 or less acres that are in the county’s most rural zoning district, the Farm and Forest District (FFD), from tier 4 into tier 3 — areas planned for future growth on septic systems that are not dominated by agriculture or forest land — to try for the exemption.
Staff also shifted parcels of 50 or more acres that are in the residential and rural community districts from tier 3 to tier 4. In addition, to try for the exemption, staff removed publicly owned land that is permanently protected from development from the density calculations of land tier 4.
After these efforts, the density ratio was one unit per 26.9 acres — enough for the exemption. Staff then calculated that the exemption would allow approximately 863 additional houses before the exemption expires; however, staff noted that this number does not take into account whether all property is fully developable, which brings the net number of developable houses to approximately 690.
During discussions with MDP, staff asked if the county could rezone the shifting of 5 or less acre parcels from the FFD into a residential district in order to shift them into tier 3.
According to staff, MDP said it would have to consider what zoning regulations the 5 or less acre parcels were originally created, and if they were created under a zoning district intended for resource conservation, they would be included in the density calculation of tier 4.
Staff also asked MDP if the county would have to change the potential for one-unit-per-10-acre density, permitted by the county’s transferable development rights in the FFD, to one unit per 20 acres, or require 10 development rights for each additional unit to achieve the same means, in order to receive the exemption.
MDP said that is correct, according to staff, who added that property owners would either lose half their potential density possible with TDRs or have to buy twice as many TDRs.
Based on other language in the act, MDP said lots should be used to make density calculation despite the text that reads “dwelling unit,” according to county staff.
Based on this, the county determined tier 4 density at one lot per 13.9 acres.
“The state is not making it very easy for us,” explained Chuck Johnston, director of community planning and building. “We would have to make a lot of zoning changes to account for future growth.”
One of the other options staff presented to the commissioners was to not adopt the growth tier maps and work with other jurisdictions to change the act.
Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said he received a phone call from Eastern Shore counties who are taking legal action, and wanted to know if Calvert would join them. Clark explained that the county has requested more information from those counties before making a decision.
Even though the county has decided not to pursue the exemption and apply the tiers as staff has suggested, the county was clear that they can choose to pursue legal action against the act at any point in time.
New zoning amendments proposed
The Department of Community Planning and Building presented three amendments to the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance on Oct. 23 during a work session with the BOCC. The commissioners voted to send each amendment to the Calvert County Planning Commission for a work session.
The first text amendment, which reduces the number of parking spaces required for day care centers, was approved in a 4-1 vote, with Clark opposing.
Currently, the ordinance requires all day care centers to provide three parking spaces per teaching station. For in-home day cares, this is in addition to the two spots required for the dwelling, and does not take into account a garage.
The proposed amendment will require only the two parking spaces for the dwelling, for day cares serving eight clients or less. The proposed amendment also reduces the number of spaces, from three to two per teaching station, for day cares serving more than eight clients.
The amendment caused some conflict among board members. Clark, who voted against sending the amendment to the planning commission for a work session, said he felt as though the day cares should be required to have three parking spaces for safety reasons.
“We do not need to regulate every single little possible problem,” Shaw said.
Clark said he believed this amendment to be in reference to the one complaint the board received by email from a day care about the required parking.
Shaw, however, said it isn’t in reference to one case, but that she knew of “some” whose licenses have just been revoked.
Clark questioned her on those day cares, but Shaw said, “I’m not going to sit there and rat them out on TV.”
The second amendment, which removes the word “dormitory” from the residential section of the use chart in the ordinance and then includes it and other accessory uses in the Institutional section, was passed to the planning commission unanimously, along with the third amendment, which provides automatic elimination of side and rear yard setback when adjacent non-residential properties have the same owner.