Roughly a dozen properties were incorrectly zoned three decades ago during mapping of the county’s critical area, limiting potential commercial business there.
The St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management is requesting an amendment to the county’s critical area ordinance after oversights that were made by the state Critical Area Commission apparently 30 years ago, Bill Hunt, director of the land use and growth management department, said.
While Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) said the amendment, if passed, would be “another tool in the tool box” for developers — especially those who want to redevelop derelict properties. Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said he was worried about the impact of loosening the regulations on development.
In the critical area, a 1,000-foot zone around tidal waters and wetlands, land is zoned as rural conservation, intensely developed or limited development, with varying state regulations meant to conserve the watershed and habitat based on those uses.
Local governments are granted a growth allocation from the state consisting of 5% of that jurisdiction’s resource conservation area lands. Portions of that allocation may be appropriated to developers to change zoning designations on land within the critical area to allow for either more intense or more limited development.
The land use department is seeking to change the growth allocation process that would give the county commissioners the ability to change critical area overlay zones for individual development projects, which would require their approval on a case-by-case basis. The department is also proposing a change to remove requirements that currently dictate that a property’s zoning designation can only be changed if that property is adjacent to a parcel already zoned for limited development or intense development.
The amendment would effectively allow zoning for any critical area property in a growth area to be changed to intensely developed, for any use permitted within the zoning district of that property, including building on undeveloped land, according to a memo.
No decision was made on the amendment, but one speaker addressed the commissioners during their public hearing Tuesday morning, in support of the change.
Lisa Kelley, who co-owns Ruddy Duck Seafood and Alehouse, told the commissioners she is seeking to refurbish the old Fat Boys Country Store near Leonardtown into a restaurant with an open kitchen and educational opportunities. Kelley said that parcel was improperly zoned, and Hunt confirmed.
“I’m not opposed to it, but I’m worried about the down the road ramifications,” Morgan said. “How far can this spider stretch?” he asked later.
‘The intent of this is not only to correct a mistake, but to allow another tool [for] derelict properties to be made viable again,” Colvin said.
“It is frustrating that we’re forced to go through … this lengthy process to get it to where we can use it again,” Hunt said about the property.
“There are many safeguards, you might call them, hurdles that have to be [overcome] before we can use this,” Hunt said. The state’s Critical Area Commission must approve the changes.
Hunt added that the critical area commission is supportive of amendment, but “cautious as well. They have told us that when this comes up, there has to be strong support for it in the comprehensive plan… It’s not enough to just pass this ordinance … We’re gonna have to do more research … so they feel comfortable that the spider won’t expand beyond what is considered a reasonable amount, given the importance of the critical area.”
Public comment on the amendment is open until next Tuesday, and can be emailed or mailed to the county commissioners.
In other business, the commissioners adopted the Lexington Park Development District Master Plan, and made a change to allow religious assembly within the U.S. Navy’s air installation compatible use zone, or AICUZ, despite that use being deemed as “not recommended” due to safety concerns by Naval Air Station Patuxent River, which the AICUZ surrounds.