Community Issues

Zoning Issues


The following are some of the major issues for which I believe significant revisions to the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations are needed to better protect citizens and our property values. I would appreciate any comment or thoughts on these or other subjects.


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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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 stations 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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Agricutural Uses

There has been lots of discussion going back years concerning what uses should be allowed on Agricultural-zoning land. While some want to restrict such land to traditional growing of crops and raising animals, other want to expand the uses to whatever is needed to allow the farmer to continue to own the land, even if it means detroying its agricultural use. This has included cell towers. breweries with large entertainment facilities, etc. In a notable example, Councilman Huff, in his final weeks in office, tried to advance what he called a "Right-to-Farm Bill" (as Bill 65-14 (tabled)). It mostly defined a bunch of non-agricultural activities to be allowed under the term "agricultural tourism", with the argument that they were agriculture-related to "generate economic growth", such as selling clothing, seasonal haunted houses, straw mountains (?), petting zoo, tours, playgrounds, picnis areas with rest rooms, gift shops, etc. While these all sound good, they are very hard to control, as we have found with other things. I called it the "Right-to-not-Farm Bill".

In fact, back in 2009, a group of citizens, farmers, county employees, experts, etc. met for months, beginning with an effort to better restrict Special Exceptions that were destroying farm land. We also looked at the "Right-to-farm Laws" in other Counties and drafted one for Baltimore County. Although recommendations were made to the County Council, nothing ever came of this effort. In fact, later on, Bill 19-14 went directly against one of our recommendations.

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Updated 4 Nov 2021 by MAP