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Wary about regulating residential home occupants


Staff writer

When presented with three text amendments to the county zoning ordinance, the commissioners agreed staff had more work to do on all three.

Department of Community Planning and Building staff presented the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners with three text amendments to the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance on Tuesday during a work session.

The first amendment limits the number of non-related occupants in residential dwellings and adds a definition of family to the ordinance. The second amendment reduces the number of residents allowed in a group home from 16 to eight and imposes other related requirements. The third deletes Flex Space Business from the ordinance’s use chart and incorporates those limits on retail sales into other uses.

“Take it back. Rethink it,” Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) continually told staff.

The proposed amendment limiting the number of non-related persons in a home seeks to do so using the proposed definition of family as “One or more persons occupying a dwelling unit using common cooking facilities, provided that unless all members are related by blood or marriage or legal adoption, no such shall contain more than four (4) non-related persons. Family members related by blood or marriage shall be immediate family.”

An immediate family, in the zoning ordinance, is defined as “a father, mother, son, daughter, grandfather, grandmother, grandson or granddaughter.”

Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said, “This is an archaic, out-of-date definition of a family. ... In terms of people living as a family unit in a house, it’s very, very common now among young people to have a family before they get married.

“So, by your definition, they’re not a family, even though they’re a mother, a father and children living in a home. If they have more than two children, they’ve exceeded what you define as can be living in a house. So the number four is also ridiculous as far as I’m concerned.”

Director of Community Planning and Building Chuck Johnston said the number is a “judgment call,” and that this proposed amendment “relates a little bit to” the group homes amendment.

“The issue is that you have large numbers of people who aren’t related to each other at all who simply cohabitate,” Johnston said.

But, Shaw said, that’s not the issue, and the issue is really that it’s disruptive to a neighborhood because of too many cars or too much activity.

“The question for me becomes, we’re not really addressing that in this text amendment,” she said.

Commissioner Pat Nutter (R) suggested that the livability code “would address the issue better.”

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) asked, “Does this just seem a little intrusive on people’s rights?

“... I can’t support this code going forward,” he said, telling staff they “need to look for another solution.”

The second proposed amendment seeks to limit the number of residents in a group home to eight.

Currently, the ordinance defines a group home as “a community-based living facility offering a family or home-like environment for up to 16 residents for people who need assistance or care in some form.”

This amendment would also affect the definition of assisted living. Currently, assisted living is defined as “group homes with more than 16 residents,” and the proposed amendment would change it to “group homes with more than eight residents.”

In addition, the amendment would require the owner or operator to live on the premises, an occupancy permit for such use and the facility to be operated in accordance with applicable state and federal requirements.

Slaughenhoupt said he is “conditionally OK” with the amendment, but he said he needed to understand why the number changed from 16 to eight.

Mary Beth Cook, deputy director and policy division chief, said staff was “hoping to reduce the intrusiveness of those group homes.”

Johnston said the number chosen is another “judgment call” for the board and the Calvert County Planning Commission to make.

Slaughenhoupt wondered if there was another, more efficient way of reducing the intrusiveness of group homes within a neighborhood by limiting the number permitted in a neighborhood.

But, Johnston explained, “the problem has been that there’s one group home in my subdivision.”

Johnston said that by reducing the number to eight and imposing the additional criteria, “it would solve the problem for the future.”

“No. You’re not solving the problem for the person who doesn’t want any group home in their neighborhood. But you have created problems, or possibly created problems for other group homes,” Shaw said, adding that the number was plucked out of the air. “I’m not willing to move it forward. ... It’s not government’s responsibility to add every concern a citizen has.”

The third proposed amendment deletes the Flex Space Business category on the use charts and would allow, with conditions, retail uses as an accessory use in other industrial use categories.

“By adding the retail conditions to the existing Industrial Uses, it will provide the flexibility that was intended under the ‘Flex Space Business’ while being less ambiguous,” according to a memo from Cook.

Johnston said staff has “found it very difficult to implement,” and that the phrase is “very convoluted.”

But as the discussion continued, some confusion arose about what the problem was and why there was a proposed amendment.

Shaw said she wasn’t sure what problem the amendment was trying to solve.

Slaughenhoupt said, “I’m sorry, I thought the problem was that the existing was vague.”

Clark explained the amendment is trying to determine whether retail should be allowed in industrial parks or be restricted to town centers.

The amendment proposes to limit the amount of retail space in industrial warehouses and manufacturing or assembly buildings to 15 percent, rather than the current 30 percent permitted.

Shaw said she understands staff needs to address the flex space issue, but was unsure if reducing the percentage “is this the best way” to direct retail space to town centers.

In other business, the commissioners held a work session to review and discuss how changes to the zoning ordinance and Official Zoning Maps are done through the text and map amendment processes.

Staff presented the processes in several ways, including a flow chart, a timeline chart and an outline. The versions of the processes are broken down further into three processes: public initiated amendments, staff initiated amendments and the zoning map amendment.

Slaughenhoupt said he would like to see an “input and output” for each activity and also what “controls and mechanisms” are required for each activity.

He and the other commissioners agreed a more visual version of the process would be helpful that would include a way for the tasks to be checked off as they are completed.

The timeline chart, Cook said, demonstrates a six month process for the amendment from beginning to end, which is the “best case scenario.”

Shaw said she wanted to make clear to the public that some amendments tend to get “bogged down” in the planning commission, which “seems to be unable to make up its mind.”

She said that if a resident seeking to initiate the process looks at the 18-step process, it would look like a daunting task.

Johnston assured her that “staff pretty much does it.”

“It’s a good first step in terms of laying out how many steps there are,” Shaw told staff.