Community Issues - Development process

Open Space


Reference: BCC §32-6-108


Over the past years, there have been a large number of Bills to modify the Open Space requirements - sometimes to relax the requirements to benefit developers and sometimes to tighten up the requirements. The complexity of the subject and of the resulting Section 32-6-108 sometimes makes it difficult to even determine whether a proposed change is the former or the latter.

Bill 73-16
On the surface, this Bill appeared to be an attempt to better define what would qualify as "Open Space". But the resulting wording, in spite of my comments to fix it, ended up with some really bad, impossible to implement, restrictions. It defines "Open Space" as "a parcel or parcels of land that is a minimum average of 75 feet wide or has an average grade of no more than 15 percent". I have no idea how "average width" of any irregularly-shaped parcel or "average grade" would be determined. Further, in spite of my comment prior to the Bill being passed, the use of "or" in this sentence means that a large, steep parcel, or a very small level one could qualify as "Open Space".

The requirement used to be for a "minimum width of 75 ft"; the change in this Bill seemed to be to accommodate a specific parcel owned by Neighbor Space. (It also previously required that "finished grades be less than 4%" and "passive LOS grades not exceed 10%".)

Back in 2000, the County published the Local Open Space Manual. Bill 73-16 required that it be updated and "submitted to the County Council for approval on or before April 1, 2017". That never happened.

There is now a definition of "Open Space" in BCC §32-6-108 which applies only to "this section", although the term is used throughout the BCC and BCZR. The BCZR contains definitions of "Open Space, Common" and "Open Space Tract, Local" which do not appear to relate to the definition in BCC §32-6-108.

Corrections Needed

All of the sections and exemptions related to Open Space need to be reviewed and modified. It needs to be returned to a simple statement of the amount of Open Space required for each type of residential development (with no exemptions) and a clear definitions of what does and does not qualify as Open Space. Then, somehow, there needs to be a process to prevent future Councils from again screwing this up through Special Bills.

Bills and Resolutions impacting Open Space

Plus there are no doubt numerous changes to Open Space requirements hidden in other Bills. The following mention "Open Space":

  • 45-12 Reduction in parking requirements for large shopping centers under certain conditions, including provision of Open Space
  • 11-14 ?
  • 72-14 CT District of Towson, East Towson, Fees must be used within 3 miles of project site
  • 4-15 Annual budget
  • 6-15 Conservation Burial Ground - no requirements
  • 16-15 Transit Oriented Development in Owings Mills CT District - reduces space ratio?, public buildings (library, colleges, etc) may be counted as "open" space
  • 37-15 Health Care and Surgery Center - exempt from Open Space requirements
  • 40-15 Building Code
  • 46-15 Honeygo Area - blocked some development until Open Space has been acquired
  • 66-15 Neighborhood Commons Overlay District - may be applied to "natural open space area" (not clear if this means "Local Open Space"
  • 78-15 Requires annual report to Council
  • 84-15 Limits the reduction in Open Space Waiver fees
  • 86-15 MH Zone - allow a whole lot of uses, apparently not including residential - requires Open Space or fee in lieu. Complicated description of how much is required and where.
  • 48-16 Fort Howard overlay District - requires compliance with "all open space standards applicable to the underlying DR zone" but may not pay a fee in lieu. "Open" space may be a fitness center, gym, swimming pool, etc. for veterans.
  • 49-16 Towson Overlay District - sets minimum open space ratio at 0.1, and 0.02 for above grade for parking. Provides extensive guidance on incorporation of open space into streetscape design - not appropriate for legislation.
  • 50-16 Towson Legion Triangle District - withdrawn
  • 86-16 Downtown Towson Overlay District (revision on 29-16) - lots of objectives on how to do good open space design - not legislative material
  • 66-17 Residential uses in BM and ML adjacent to CT Districts (a terrible bill) - fees to be as for the CT District
  • 73-21 Residential in BL - requires paying a fee in lieu under tier 3

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Updated 30 Sept 2021 by MAP