Community Issues

Zoning and Develoment Process Issues


The following are some of the major issues for which I believe significant revisions to County Codes are needed to better protect citizens and our property values. These mostly deal with the Zoning regulations (BCZR) and the develop process I would appreciate any comment or thoughts on these or other subjects.


PUD Process

The PUD process started out years ago as a good thing - an allowance for the owner of a large tract(s) with multiple zonings (inside the URDL) to develop it without the specific constraints of the zoning on the individual parts. Thus, they could rearrange the uses to a more useful configuration in a "mixed use" project. But the original notion was that they could not do anything not allowed by the underlying zoning. Over the years, this process has been weakened, first by some allowances outside the URDL and using it for very small parcels without any "mixed-use" plan. It simply became a cheaper and quicker way to get a development done than what was allowed under the "normal" development process. Developers soon viewed at as a "short-cut", simpler and quicker than going through the proper rezoning process - the every 4 years CZMP.

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Service Garages

While no Service Garage is a nice-looking place, many have gone way over board with junked cars all around, parking on nearby residential streets, etc. The problem is many-fold, but, probably the worst thing is that the definition of "Garage, Service" in the BCZR, left over from 1955, is "A garage, other than a residential garage, where motor-driven vehicles are stored, equipped for operation, repaired or kept for remuneration, hire or sale". This is being used to allow unlimited storage and sales of used vehicles, even though Service Garages are allowed in zones where used-vehicle sales are not and junk yard have been banned since 1955. Since "Service Garage" applies to many different things, even a "detailing" shop, this is used to sneak a use into an un-aware community, which then has no recourse when the property turns into a used car lot, even with many junk cars.

The BCZR contains multiple conditions under which a Service Garage is allowed. These are scattered around the BCZR and are very confusing.

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Trespass Towing

There are three types of towing:

  • Medallion - when you call to have your broken-down vehicle towed
  • Police - when the police call to have a vehicle towed from a crash scene or dangerously parked on public property
  • Trespass - when a property owner calls to have a vehicles improperly parked on their private property

The third would more appropriately be called "predatory towing".

My opinion is that trespass towing should be prohibited. It is the same as car theft and deprives the owner of the use of their property. If someone wants a vehicle towed from their private property, they should have to call the police, whose standard procedure is to first try to get in contact with the owner before getting it towed. But, it appears that state law requires the County to allow "trespass towing", but allows the County to establish the rules, procedures, charges, etc.

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Variances

A big part of the development process, and the problem, is that the Code allows the ALJ, following a hearing, to grant variances to the Zoning regulations. These requests are rarely denied. Anyone who is willing to spend a few hundred dollars can do pretty much whatever they want. As a popular Council member once said: "variances are handed out like candy".

Although variances are supposed to be limited to situations in which the property is "unique" and the owner would otherwise face a "practical difficulty", they are rarely denied. The rule that they "should be exercised sparingly and only under exceptional circumstances" is being ignored.

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Density

All residential zones include some limit on density. There is a lot of confusion concerning the use of terms "dwelling unit", "density unit", "lot", "parcel", "tract", and the like. There needs to be a complete cleanup of the BCZR to clarify these terms and then to ensure that all uses of the terms are consistent (as well as limits on the authority of the ALJ to grant variances).

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Road Classifications

Numerous places in the regulations refer to Road Classifications, which may affect what is allowed or prohibited. In some places, the BCZR correctly references "the Federal Highway Functional Classification Map" as the source for designation of road classifications. In other places, it does not, thus relying on the definition of "arterial street", "collector street", etc in Section 101.1 (which might not be consistent with the Federal definitions and are open to interpretation.

It should be noted that the current classifications are indicated both on the County's MyNeighborhood web application and on an SHA application (but not the same).

This needs to be fixed.

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Gas stations

The BCZR contains a confusing set of regulations, exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions regarding where gas station may be located. This has been complicated by a number of "Special Bills" to allow them in specific locations where not otherwise allowed (more exceptions).

To further confuse the issue - the term "Automotive Service Station" (not to be confused with (Service Garage") was changed to "Fuel Service Station" (see 405.1.C), but the term "Automotive Service Station" remains in numerous places. The BCZR needs a lot of clean-up and a simple editorial fix.

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Local Open Space

The Open Space laws exist to ensure that residents have needed play and relaxation areas. The creation of dense housing leads to serious problems of health issues, including mental, because of the lack of outdoor space to stretch and exercise in. Just like many things in our Codes, it starts out good, then degenerates as the County Council (and ALJ) hands out exemptions and variances for special cases to benefit specific developers.

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Updated 30 Sept 2021 by MAP