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Calvert County is starting over with proposed text amendments for group homes, assisted living facilities, care homes, shelters and transitional housing after the county commissioners told staff there are several problems the proposals are creating.

The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners deferred action on the proposed text amendment and told staff it needs to start over and work with the Calvert County Planning Commission to come up with suggestions and alternatives.

“All I’m doing,” Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said, “is trying to get some more heads wrapped around this.”

The text amendments propose to redefine group home and assisted living facilities to reflect the state definitions in the Annotated Code of Maryland, and add state definitions for care homes, shelters and transitional housing. The proposed amendments for assisted living facilities, group homes, care homes and shelters also adds new conditions to the uses, such as an owner or operator must live on the premise, an occupancy permit for such use must be obtained and the facility must be operated in accordance with all applicable state and federal requirements. Group homes and assisted living facilities are proposed as a conditional use in the town center zoning ordinances.

“We started out with a problem,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said. “And the problem was a very large, commercial facility in a residential subdivision. That was the problem we started with.

“The first question is, are we addressing that problem? … And, there’s people here from that community, and I want to know, does that really address the problem? No. You have not addressed the problem. … What we have done is, we are creating problems, in my opinion, for the 13 assisted living homes that we have currently … and another 14 or 15 group homes. This is not well thought through,” Shaw said.

The proposed amendment, based on state code, limits the number of residents at a care home to four. It also states that a group home can serve four to eight residents needing a specialized living arrangement due to a developmental disability; no more than eight residents who need assistance in performing the activities of daily life can be at an assisted living facility; there is no limit for the number of residents at a shelter as the size of this type of facility varies based on the number of beds provided; and one family, living in a residence until they can get on their feet, with no limit to the number of residents at the house, is permitted in transitional housing.

Maureen Hofmann, director of community resources, helped Department of Community Planning and Building staff create the new definitions based on state regulations.

“It sounds like a puzzle gone wild, doesn’t it?” Hofmann said jokingly. “That’s because the state has varied oversight and definitions of what they pay for.”

She said one of the concerns she has with implementing and enforcing the proposed conditions for the various types of facilities is that there are types of facilities that the county doesn’t know about.

“I have no exact number of how many houses fall under the category of no licensure required that are actually operating in the county” as halfway houses, Hofmann explained.

Clark wondered how staff would differentiate between halfway house-type facilities and someone who has three bedrooms in their house that they rent out to three other people.

Chuck Johnston, the director of the Department of Community Planning and Building, said boarders are defined and there are regulations in the county ordinance for boarders.

“But I don’t know how you’re going to enforce that,” Clark told Johnston.

Shaw said the way many people live in Calvert County is by having roommates, “and you are putting that in jeopardy.

“You and I have a really big philosophical difference,” Shaw told Johnston. “You’re philosophy is that you should be able to define every single little thing in the zoning ordinance and the staff should just be able to look at a chart and make a decision. I’m telling you that I don’t believe that that’s possible, No. 1. And in attempting to make it easier for staff, you’ve taken common sense completely out of this, and we are putting programs that have operated for 30 years with absolutely no problems at risk. That’s what we’re doing here, and we haven’t solved the original problem.

“We may have lessened the original problem,” Shaw added, “but we have not solved it.”

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said the original intention of the proposed amendment was to “prevent creation of a commercial activity and expansion of that activity, which really is a business being conducted in residential areas that has definite impacts on residential neighborhoods.”

He wondered where in the text amendment the issue was addressed.

Deputy Director of the Department of Community Planning and Building Mary Beth Cook said, “I think our original goal was to reduce the number so it’d be less of an impact, not to eliminate allowing them in the residential district.”

“When you have a total outside commercial operation dropped in the middle of a neighborhood and there’s nothing, nothing in zoning that prevents that, that says that can’t be done,” Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) said about what the focus of the amendment should be.

Shaw said staff took state licensing regulations and definitions and “tried to create it into a zoning ordinance.”

Nutter suggested the action be deferred until a later date while staff and the board have time to work on the proposed amendments.

“We don’t want to create more problems than we solve,” he said.