Frederick Grapples with Tricky Historic Property Issue

In a recent Kojo Nnamdi Show interview, Frederick Council Member Billy Shreve discusses the property battle between Frederick County residents and a group backed by the church of Scientology over the future use of a presidential fishing retreat.

The 40-acre retreat site called Trout Run has been purchased by the group and they hope to turn the site into a drug treatment facility. Residents and council members of Frederick County are trying to hold up the process with zoning laws citing that this property is historic. The broadcast discusses how far local government should go in interpreting how historic property is used.

Listen to the broadcast here.

Court of Appeals Limits Standing For Rezoning Ordinance Challenges

An April 22 Daily Record article discussed the holdings in a pair of recent Maryland Court of Appeals decisions (Anne Arundel County v. Bell and Anne Arundel County v. Harwood Civic Association) that limit the standing of persons seeking to challenge a local government’s rezoning ordinance. The Court held that in order to have standing to challenge a rezoning ordinance, a property owner must be a taxpayer who has suffered a financial loss or increased taxes due to the new ordinance. From the article:

The Court of Appeals, in its 4-3 decision, blocked a challenge from property owners to an Anne Arundel County ordinance converting open fields to mixed-use residential zoning. The court said the owners’ concerns about traffic and environmental decay were insufficient to give them standing to sue.

In its ruling, the high court declined to extend to zoning-ordinance challenges the standing it has permitted property owners opposing administrative land-use decisions made by county zoning boards. The court noted that land-use decisions are executive functions, whereas ordinances are legislative acts subject to stricter standing requirements for property owners.

Granting “property-owner standing” in rezoning-ordinance cases would enable people to sue counties based on claims of being aggrieved by the new law because their property is near the rezoned district, the court said Tuesday.

“Hypothetically, thousands of plaintiffs with the benefit of property-owner standing could have standing to challenge comprehensive zoning legislation,” Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote for the majority.

“This would be unworkable entirely. This court has been reticent in the extreme to construe standing doctrines so broadly…. “

Arundel County also expressed satisfaction with the outcome in the article:

Prior decisions have held that property owners have standing to sue if their property was rezoned via ordinance, leaving unanswered whether everyone in the neighborhood could also sue, said attorney Gregory J. Swain, of the Anne Arundel County Office of Law.

The high court’s decision “gives clarity” to the standing issue and “provides guideline for the future,” Swain said Wednesday.

“The real danger was having just lots of these lawsuits,” he added. “We are happy that the court tightened it up the way they did.”

Baltimore City Sustainability Commission Recommends “Smart Cans” & Developer Trash Plans To Combat Litter

An April 21 Baltimore Brew article reported that Baltimore City’s Sustainability Commission has developed a series of recommendations to address the City’s challenging litter and trash problem. The recommendations include:

  1. Increasing the number of “smart cans” given to residents;
  2. Increasing the number of “corner cans” on public streets;
  3. Require developers to create a trash plan for building sites that must be submitted for approval to the City’s planning department;
  4. Creating a “Clean Up Baltimore” Peer-to-Peer Network;
  5. Launching a new anti-littering media campaign on social media, buses, and trash cans;
  6. Supporting statewide legislation to create a bottle deposit program; and
  7. Developing a stronger litter, trash and dumping code enforcement process for the City.

From the article:

Currently operating in two Inner City neighborhoods, the [smart can] program gives residents a sturdy city-owned trash can, equipped with an attached lid and wheels to make it easy to move. The purpose of the cans is to reduce garbage and rat problems in communities where residents don’t use trash cans or can lids or don’t use them efficiently.

The new cans are equipped with a chip that the city can use to determine where the can belongs. Taking a can from a property is considered theft and may be subject to law enforcement action. …

Corner cans are somewhat controversial in Baltimore because the traditional municipal wide-mouthed trash receptacles are subject to misuse by those who stuff them with bags of household garbage.

Better designed narrow-rimed cans are less prone to abuse, and more efficient, but are also more expensive to purchase. …

Another proposal the commission supports is requiring developers to provide a trash plan for approval at site review meetings with the city Planning Department.

2015 End of Session Wrap Up: Planning & Zoning

This post summarizes the status of various planning and zoning bills MACo took a position on for the 2015 Regular Session.

Adoption and Amendment of Comprehensive Plans: As introduced, HB 919/SB 551 clarifies the authority of a local legislative body for a non-charter county or municipality to adopt, amend, or reject a comprehensive plan submitted by its planning commission. The bill was introduced in response to an Attorney General’s opinion which challenged whether the legislative body of a non-charter county or municipality could substantively amend a submitted comprehensive plan.

MACo supported the bill with clarifying amendments that better captured the original intent of the stakeholders and the bill sponsors.  MACo argued that final authority over a comprehensive plan should rest with the local legislative body, who were elected by their citizens and that the bill would simply grant parity between non-charter counties and charter counties (whose legislative bodies already posses the power to substantively amend comprehensive plans).

FINAL STATUS: HB 919/SB 551 passed the General Assembly with the MACo-supported clarifying amendments.  As amended, the bill:

  • Authorizes the legislative body of a non-charter county or municipality to adopt, modify, remand, or disapprove all or part of a comprehensive plan submitted by its planning commission
  • Requires the legislative body to hold a public hearing before adopting or modifying the plan and authorizes the body to hold a public hearing before remanding or disapproving the plan
  • Requires the planning commission to hold a public hearing before submitting a new recommend plan to the legislative body, if the body remanded or disapproved the prior submitted plan
  • Requires the legislative body to approve, modify, remand, or disapprove a submitted plan within 90 days after receipt or else the recommendation of the planning commission shall be considered approved
  • Provides that the legislative body may extend the 90-day deadline for up to 60 additional days if there are exigent circumstances preventing the body from acting on the plan within 90 days

 MACo HB 919 Testimony

MACO SB 551 Testimony

System Service Costs for GIS: HB 353/SB 94 makes several changes to existing Geographic Information System (GIS) law based on recommendations from the Council for Open Data.  It provides that a State or local governmental unit may only set a fee for GIS data products that reasonably reflect the cost to: (1) create, develop, and produce a new system product in printed, hard, copy, digital, or other format; or (2) reproduce an existing system product in printed, hard copy, digital, or other format.  The bill also removes the existing ability to charge a reasonable share of “overhead costs” of the system when the system is used to create a new system product.  Overhead costs include items such as database maintenance and update, hardware, quality control, and software.  Finally, the bill repeals a requirement that a person must contract with a governmental unit to be granted certain online access to GIS data.

MACo initially opposed the bill due to the removal of a county to charge for overhead costs but changed its position to support with amendments after reaching agreement with the bill sponsors and the Maryland Department of Information Technology to allow counties to include a $50 surcharge on any GIS product they produce.

FINAL STATUS:  The General Assembly passed HB 353/SB 94 with the MACo amendment allowing counties to include a $50 surcharge.

MACo HB 353 Testimony

MACo SB 94 Testimony

State Highway Entrance Permit Process: As introduced, HB 621/SB 656  requires a residential subdivision to get a permit from the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) before making an entrance to a certain class of State highways (similar to the current requirement for commercial and industrial properties).  When determining whether to grant a permit for an entrance from a residential subdivision or any commercial or industrial property, SHA must consider whether the proposed entrance is consistent with the local comprehensive plan. SHA must determine whether to grant or deny the permit based on whether a preponderance of reliable evidence indicates that the proposed entrance is consistent with the comprehensive plan and meets the other requirements for the permit.  SHA must grant or deny the permit request before the earlier of: (1) 60 days after receipt of a written request from a land use authority for the jurisdiction in which the proposed entrance is to be located; or (2) 120 days after receipt of a complete permit application from the applicant. SHA must promptly provide written notice and an explanation of the reasons for granting or denying a request to the applicant and each land use authority for the jurisdiction in which the proposed entrance is to be located. Finally, a land use authority may appeal the denial of a permit as a contested case before Office of Administrative Hearings.

HB 762 is a similar bill that more narrowly applied to commercial and industrial properties.  The bill requires SHA to grant or deny a request for a permit for an industrial or commercial property to connect with a State highway that carries an average traffic volume of more than 2,000 vehicles a day within 45 days after receipt of the request. If SHA denies the permit request, SHA must provide a written notice and explanation of why the request was denied. An applicant whose permit was denied may field a petition for judicial review in circuit court.

MACo supported HB 621/SB 656 with amendments that would remove the comprehensive plan consistency test in the bill.  MACo argued that consistency is related to zoning and would properly be considered as part of the initial subdivision process and does not directly relate to a determination of whether to grant a highway entrance.  MACo supported HB 762.

FINAL STATUS: At the request of the bill sponsors, MACo and other stakeholders collaborated on amendments merging the two bills together and turning them into a State Highway Access Permit Task Force designed to bring SHA, MACo, and other stakeholders together to address the permit process issues raised by the bills.  However, the House Environment and Transportation Committee ultimately decided to send a letter asking SHA to meet with stakeholders over the 2015 interim rather than pass a formal task force.  The Committee gave HB 621 and HB 762 unfavorable reports.  The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee also gave SB 656 an unfavorable report.

MACo HB 621 Testimony

MACo SB 656 Testimony

MACo HB 762 Testimony

Adoption of Maryland Building Performance Standards: HB 1210 increases the time period where the Department of Housing and Community Development must adopt the International Building Code (including the International Energy Conservation Code and any modifications) as the Maryland Building Performance Standards from 12 months to 18 months after the Code is issued.  The bill also increase the time period where a local government must implement and enforce any State modifications to the Standards from 6 months to 12  months after the modifications are adopted by the State.

MACo supported the bill as a reasonable time extension for local governments to incorporate and enforce potentially complex modifications made to the Standards by the State.

FINAL STATUS: HB 1210 was introduced late and was not released from the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Note: There is no MACo testimony for HB 1210.

Howard County Has Fastest Population Growth in Maryland

The U.S. Census Bureau recently published a report on Maryland population growth. Howard County had the fastest population growth between July 1, 2013 and July 1, 2014 with 1.4 percent (population estimate in 2013: 304,934; population estimate in 2014: 309,284), with Charles County following as a close second with 1.2 percent. Montgomery County followed in third with 1 percent growth and Frederick County with 0.9 percent growth.

According the the Southern Maryland Newspapers Online, Charles County attributes its growth to the change in the quality of life in the county.

Data collected from the 2010 census reported 146,551 residents in April 2010, indicating the county added about 8,196 more people to its population between that time and July 2014.

The recent growth rate and population increase are part of an ongoing trend county government officials have seen in the past decade, said Marcia Keeth, acting director of the Charles County Department of Economic Development.

Keeth said the latest numbers are a result of the county’s quality of life.

Although the county’s growth briefly slowed during the economic downturn in 2007, Keeth said, Charles County has grown from year to year because of an influx of young professional families in the county over the past 10 years.

Management-level professionals seek out Charles County, she said, for its schools and affordability, and this well-educated workforce earning above-average salaries has attracted businesses.

Visit SoMdNews online to read the whole article on Charles County’s growth.

For full reports on each county, visit the United States Census Bureau’s report online and select a county.

Baltimore County Planning Board Takes No Position On Towson Open Space Fees

An April 3 Baltimore Sun article reported that the Baltimore County Planning Board did not take a position on whether to change a longstanding exception to developers paying open space fees in the Towson area.  The Board’s lack of a position means that it will be up to the County Council to make a decision on whether to alter the existing fee structure. The article explained that in the rest of the County, a developer must either dedicate a certain amount of acreage to green space or else pay a waiver fee.  However, there is an exception for certain town center areas, such as Towson. From the article:

In Towson, however, some proposed developments will pay little or no open space waiver fees due to exceptions that were carved out 15 years ago for developments in town center districts, including student housing projects. The 1-million-square-foot Towson Row mixed-use development on York Road, for example, is slated to pay $55,000 in open space fees. …

During the Planning Board’s two-hour meeting Thursday, county Planning Director Andrea Van Arsdale defended her department’s report and said Towson already has several parks and open spaces. She said some projects Towson residents have been clamoring for are in the works, including two turf sports fields at local high schools and a reworking of the underutilized concrete Patriot Plaza in front of the county courthouse.

The County Council asked for the Planning Board’s advice on the open space fee issue two years ago, but members of the board could not reach a consensus Thursday.

2015 Western Maryland Local Government Exchange – May 1

The Western Maryland Local Government Exchange will be May 1, 2015 from 8:30 am until 4:00 pm in Frederick, MD.

The Exchange’s goal is to provide an event where local government representatives and citizens can share information concerning best management practices for land use and other issues. The focus this year is on “Revitalizing Our Region’s Communities”.

Agenda topics include:

  • Efforts for Economic Revitalization: Building on Your Community’s Strengths
  • Tools and resources are available to communities to assist revitalization efforts
  • Infrastructure efforts to support communities

Click here to view the full agenda. Registration is $25 and can be paid via credit card with the online registration or you may fill out the paper form and mail it in with a check.

For questions about registration or payment, contact Pam Thomas at or 301.432.2767. For additional information about the program, contact Nancy Nunn at or 410.827.8056 ext. 128.

Two Maryland Planning Agencies to Receive National Awards for Excellence

Recently announced, the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and the Montgomery County Planning Department will be recipients of national awards for excellence from the American Planning Association (APA) at its national conference in mid-April.

According to Smart Growth Maryland’s blog,

MDP will receive the 2015 National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Agency for its years of advocacy, education and planning initiatives encouraging smart growth and sustainable communities and for improving quality of life for Maryland residents.

The Montgomery County Planning Department will receive a 2015 Award for Planning Excellence for its outstanding effort in the development of Pike & Rose in North Bethesda.  Pike & Rose is a 24-acre retail mixed use development project located near the intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike at White Flint. This is the first project built under the White Flint Sector Plan, which was adopted by Montgomery County in 2010.

The White Flint Sector Plan called for creation of mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly town center-style developments along Rockville Pike (MD 355). The plan also calls for infrastructure improvements including a bus rapid transit system on Rockville Pike, a pedestrian and bicycle friendly street grid and various open space amenities. For its innovative approach to retrofitting older suburban development, the White Flint Sector Plan was honored with an award in 2013 from the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission.

To read more about the planning awards, visit Smart Growth Maryland’s blog.

Bill Creating New Climate Change Planning Vision Withdrawn in House

Delegate Barbara Frush, the sponsor of legislation (HB 881) that would have added a new thirteenth planning vision addressing climate change, has withdrawn her bill.  MACo had proposed an amendment deleting the vision as unnecessary and onerous for local governments.

The new planning vision would have read: “Preparation and adaptation – consideration of climate change risks, including sea level rise, increased precipitation and temperature, storm surges, and flooding, based on available data predicting the likelihood of future extreme weather events.” Planning visions are broad goals that must be incorporated into local comprehensive plans.


From MACo’s testimony:

MACo does not object to the State components of the bill, including the ongoing climate change impact assessments and model local ordinances. Such information and tools assist counties in forming their own climate change adaptation strategies. However, MACo does object to the requirement of having to incorporate yet another major policy component into local comprehensive plans that are already burgeoning with mandated information.

Since 2006, counties have seen significant new land use and environmental mandates that have required major additions or changes to a county’s comprehensive plan or related planning processes.


SB 256, which was heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 17.  The Committee has taken no action on that bill.

MACo HB 881 Testimony

MACo SB 256 Testimony

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of HB 881

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of SB 256

General Assembly Holds Phosphorus Legislation Pending Agreement With Governor

The Maryland General Assembly has put a hold on passing legislation (HB 381/SB 257) that would have codified controversial phosphorus management tool (PMT) regulations for agricultural lands after reaching a tentative agreement with the Administration of Governor Larry Hogan.  The General Assembly has delayed discussion of SB 257, which is on  the Senate floor, until March 25, pending the Administration modifying regulations it introduced several weeks ago.  (HB 381 has not moved from the House Environment and Transportation Committee.)  The bills would have adopted PMT regulations that had been introduced by the outgoing Administration of Governor Martin O’Malley but withdrawn by Governor Hogan shortly after his inauguration.  Hogan subsequently introduced his own version of the PMT regulations.  From a March 18 Washington Post article:

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has agreed to a firmer deadline for fully implementing regulations that limit the amount of chicken manure farmers can use as fertilizer — ending tense negotiations among his administration, state lawmakers, Eastern Shore farmers and environmentalists worried about pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. …

By 2022, all farmers will have to abide by the new rules, although some farms could be granted an extension until 2024 if major problems arise. An advisory committee will oversee the phase-in process and must approve any extensions.

“We have agreement on a solution that represents one of the most important steps forward in environmental policy in the last decade,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan. “We thank all parties for their hard work on this critical issue.”

Further coverage from a March 18 Baltimore Sun article:

Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat, introduced [SB 257] after Hogan — in one of his first acts as governor — withdrew the anti-pollution regulations before they became final.

Pinsky said his negotiations with the governor’s office are getting to a point where the substitute rules are strong enough to deal with the problem of phosphorus runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.

“I think we’re close if not at consensus,” Pinsky said.

While acknowledging that agriculture must meet its federal and local water pollution requirements, MACo had opposed the bills, citing the negative impact on agriculture and the ability of county governments to apply sewage sludge on agricultural lands.

MACo HB 381 Testimony

MACo SB 257 Testimony