Multiple homes on a single parcel can now be subdivided into their own lots, as long as they were built lawfully, the majority of the St. Mary’s County commissioners agreed this week.
The board also extended previously issued zoning approvals until May 4, 2017, since many projects were stalled during the recession by the slowdown in the construction industry. “There’s been a lot of work that went into those approvals,” said Phil Shire, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management.
While the cases to subdivide an existing house from a parcel with one or more other homes have been few and far between, it’s not known how many new lots could be created from the change to the zoning ordinance, Shire said.
In a letter to the commissioners, Shire said, “Subdivision around multiple existing dwellings on a single parcel is nothing new. There are a number of older parcels in St. Mary’s County that contain multiple dwellings, typically built for family members.” But often, subdividing these homes becomes an issue in areas where current density restrictions can’t be met because the homes were built before the county first adopted a zoning ordinance in 1974.
The St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau raised concerns that substandard lots would be created and the county’s transferable development rights program would be weakened.
“The TDR program was set up to facilitate new development,” Shire said.
Commissioner Cindy Jones (R) said the TDR program is voluntary and moves potential new development to another area while compensating the sending property owner. This zoning amendment addresses existing homes, she said.
“If we find an illegal house we will look to the TDR program,” Shire said.
Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) voted against the zoning change because it devalues TDRs, he said, coupled with the new state law on limited lots in rural areas using septic systems.
Jarboe also said some people may have saved thousands in property taxes by not creating a new lot for a new house years ago.
“In 99 percent of the cases, subdivision was not required at that time,” Shire said.
Regarding the TDR program and the new zoning amendment, Jones said, “I really think it’s a property rights issue. You don’t pass legislation and make it retroactive on citizens. All this text amendment allows for them is to get compliant with regulations.”
“I can’t recall anyone bringing this forward ... as an issue,” Jarboe said. “My question is how many [new lots] are waiting behind the scenes.”
“There’s no way to know how many are out there,” Shire said.
Shire said new subdivisions would still have to be approved by the St. Mary’s County Health Department for their own septic systems.