Would A “Standing” Rewrite Freeze Your Comp Plan?

On February 2, 2016, MACo Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in opposition to SB 166, Land Use Actions – Legislative Bodies – Judicial Review.

From the MACo testimony,

MACo believes the Bell case is a restatement and clarification of existing precedent regarding standing and that SB 166 would improperly expand standing for both comprehensive rezoning and comprehensive planning actions. The result would upend local comprehensive planning efforts, disrupt and potentially significantly delay the comprehensive rezoning process, and imperil Smart Growth-friendly redevelopment and revitalization projects. Accordingly, MACo would urge the Committee to give SB 166 an UNFAVORABLE report.

An identical cross-filed bill, HB 243, will be heard on February 9 in the House.

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

MACo Calls for County Representation on Proposed Self-Driving Vehicle Task Force

MACo Policy Analyst, Robin Clark, testified to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in support with amendments of SB 126 on February 2, 2016. SB 126 would create a task force to study issues related to the use of self-driving vehicles.

MACo supports the bill with amendments that add additional county representatives to the task force. The additional representatives would allow county input into the law enforcement, road design, and maintenance challenges that self-driving/autonomous vehicles pose to county governments.

MACo’s written testimony states,

For counties, the three key issues with autonomous vehicles are: (1) changes in road design and maintenance; (2) law enforcement practices; and (3) liability issues.

MACo supports having a task force or workgroup to address these important issues and has been participating in an Autonomous Vehicle Working Group that was formed by the Maryland Department of Transportation in December of 2015. That working group is looking at the same issues as proposed by SB 126 but has several more local government participants.

Currently, HB 8 provides for a representative from the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association. MACo’s attached amendment would also add a representative from the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association and a county engineer or public works representative.

An identical cross-filed bill, HB 8, was heard on January 28 in the House.

For more on MACo 2016 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.


Standing Legislation a Priority for Leading Environmental Group

Maryland’s office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has targeted standing reforms as a major initiative for the 2016 session.

MACo has raised concerns with the cross-filed bills (SB 166 and HB 243), citing worries that it may trigger increased litigation over comprehensive plans and rezoning actions. County land use planners and attorneys also question whether the bills as introduced simply addresses the holding of a recent Maryland Court of Appeals case as CBF maintains, or treads into new territory for lawsuit exposure. Concerns have also been raised over the bills’ effect on redevelopment and revitalization projects.

From the CBF website:

[T]he proposed legislation would mirror an existing statutory right of judicial review found in the Land Use Article of the Maryland Annotated Code. Currently, if a local legislative body rezones one parcel, a harmed nearby property owner may bring a judicial challenge under Land Use Article Section 5-401. This bill would provide the same statutory right of judicial review for harm caused by rezoning of more than one parcel, i.e. comprehensive rezoning.

MACo Requests Additional Representation on Proposed Self-Driving Vehicle Task Force

MACo submitted written testimony at the House Environment and Transportation Committee hearing (2016-01-28) of legislation (HB 8) that would create a task force on self-driving vehicles requesting amendments adding additional county representatives. The additional representatives would allow county input into the law enforcement and road design and maintenance challenges that self-driving/autonomous vehicles pose to county governments. The bill’s primary sponsor was Delegate Pamela Beidle. From MACo’s testimony:

For counties, the three key issues with autonomous vehicles are: (1) changes in road design and maintenance; (2) law enforcement practices; and (3) liability issues.

MACo supports having a task force or workgroup to address these important issues and has been participating in an Autonomous Vehicle Working Group that was formed by the Maryland Department of Transportation in December of 2015. That working group is looking at the same issues as proposed by HB 8 but has several more local government participants.

Currently, HB 8 provides for a representative from the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association. MACo’s attached amendment would also add a representative from the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association and a county engineer or public works representative.

HB 8 is cross-filed as SB 126.

Useful Links

HB 8

MACo HB 8 Testimony

Delegate Pamela Beidle Webpage

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Autonomous Vehicle Working Group

MACo Supports More Training Time For County Building Code Enforcement Officials

At the bill hearing before the House Environment and Transportation Subcommittee (2016-01-26), MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in support of legislation (HB 57) that would provide local governments with more time to review and train its building code enforcement personnel after the State has adopted and modified a new version of the state building code. The lead sponsor of the legislation is Delegate Andrew Cassilly.

The state building code is called the Maryland Building Performance Standards (MBPS). Under current law, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development must adopt the International Building Code (IBC), the International Residential Code, and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) as the MBPS. These international codes are created by the International Code Council.

When a new version of these International Codes are published, DHCD has 12 months to review the new version, consider any modifications allowed under State law, and adopt that version along with any modifications. After adoption, a local government has 6 months to understand, implement, and begin enforcing the new version of the MBPS. From MACo’s testimony:

HB 57 would increase the time DHCD has to review, modify, and adopt a new version of the MBPS from 12 months to 18 months. The bill also increases the time a local government has to implement and begin enforcing new and modified versions of the MBPS from 6 months to 12 months.

Several recent versions of the IBC have included major changes to building code requirements and the inclusion of the IECC has further increased the breadth and complexity of Maryland’s building code. It takes time and effort for local building code personnel to review and understand these new changes as well as train inspectors to properly enforce them. HB 57 provides the needed time for proper training.

HB 57 does not expand the authority of DHCD or local governments to modify the MBPS. The bill merely provides more time for the State to review increasingly complex IBC and IECC changes before adopting and modifying them and for local governments to understand those modifications and train their code enforcement officials to properly enforce them.

The Maryland State Builders Association offered written testimony in support of the legislation. The American Chemistry Council offered written testimony in opposition to the legislation.

Useful Links

HB 57

MACo Testimony on HB 57

Delegate Andrew Cassilly Webpage

International Code Council (ICC) Website

Third Time’s a Charm? Workgroup Tackles Nutrient Credit Trading

A newly formed Maryland Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee held its first meeting on January 21 in a third attempt to create a nutrient credit trading policy among different water pollution sectors (agriculture, nonpoint sources like stormwater, and point sources like wastewater treatment plants.) The a successful trading policy can help county governments achieve their water quality goals under both the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits.

The previous two attempts were combined with the State’s efforts to create a required water pollution offset policy for new growth, dubbed “Accounting for Growth.” Currently, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), in concert with the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), is tackling the trading policy first and will work on the offset policy (now called “Aligning for Growth”) separately.

From a MDE press release (2016-01-20):

“Nutrient trading means upgrading and accelerating the Bay cleanup through teamwork and innovation,” Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said. “The committee members’ knowledge and insight will be critical to the development and implementation of a trading program that boosts our environmental progress, with clear and verifiable results.”

“The Maryland Department of Agriculture, like our partner, the Department of the Environment, believes water quality trading can be a valuable tool in restoring the Bay and its tributaries. The department has helped to lay the foundation for a successful program by leading the development of an online trading platform, establishing the Agricultural Certainty Program and developing regulations to support trading activities,” said Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder.

In recent years, nutrient trading has emerged as a promising strategy for bringing cost-effectiveness and market-driven efficiency to the achievement of nutrient reduction goals. Nutrient trading is an important element of Maryland’s approach for restoring the Bay by creating opportunities for the sectors facing the highest costs to meet a portion of their responsibilities by purchasing offsets or credits created by other sources. …

The path forward on nutrient trading includes the issuance, with input from the Maryland Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee, of a policy manual and guidelines that would be used to initiate trades within Maryland.  It also includes the adoption of regulations proposed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture establishing the requirements and standards for the generation, verification and certification of nutrient and sediment credits on agricultural lands. …

The Maryland Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee will act as an ongoing consultative group to provide direction to the overall trading program and to oversee further enhancement of the trading infrastructure.  Its first task will be to review and refine a comprehensive Maryland Trading Manual document.  A series of four initial meetings is anticipated, with the goal of finalizing a manual document and identifying other necessary actions by the end of April.

County members include: (1) Erik Michelsen, Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works; (2) Shannon Moore, Frederick County Sustainability & Environmental Resources Office; (3) Jim Caldwell, Howard County Office of Community Sustainability; (4) Lisa Feldt, Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection; and (5) Leslie Knapp, Jr., MACo. Candace Donoho is representing the Maryland Municipal League and Chris Pomeroy of AquaLaw is representing the Maryland Association of Municipal Wastewater Agencies and the Maryland Municipal Stormwater Association.

Other members include representatives from various Maryland departments, the General Assembly, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the development, agricultural, academic, and environmental communities. The Workgroup’s next scheduled meeting will be in Annapolis on February 22.

Useful Links

MDE and MDA Nutrient Credit Trading Policy Statement (2015-10-23)

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Accounting for Growth Policy

Frederick County Takes Up Zoning for Medical Cannabis

A Frederick News-Post article (2016-01-16) reported that among the bills currently being considered by the Frederick County Council is a proposal on how to zone for medical cannabis growing facilities. Numerous counties have tackled the issue of zoning for growing facilities, processing facilities, and dispensaries. From the article:

Councilwoman M.C. Keegan-Ayer introduced a bill Jan. 12 that would allow medical cannabis facilities to operate in the county’s agricultural zones, but only after applying for a special exception with the Board of Zoning Appeals and meeting certain restrictions.

The bill would require a grower to operate at least 1,000 feet away from any dwelling, and the same distance from the property line of any school or Board of Education property.

Any facility would have to be on at least 25 acres, and would require 24-hour surveillance by at least one armed security officer.

After a public hearing on the topic in October, Keegan-Ayer said an informal poll of council members showed that at least four were interested in allowing growers to operate in the agricultural zone.

The Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is the entity charged by the State with reviewing and issuing licenses for medical cannabis facilities. The Commission received has received over 1,000 applications for medical cannabis growing facilities, processing facilities, and dispensaries located across the State. The Commission can grant up to 15 grower licenses and plans to issue preliminary approvals for growers by the summer.

The article also discussed other bills being considered by the Council that would: (1) change the County’s historic designation process; (2) strengthen the County’s ethics law; (3) alter County impact fees; and (4) increase school mitigation fees.

Delegate Adams Remains Opposed to Sprinkler System Mandate

Delegate Christopher Adams
Delegate Christopher Adams (Photo Source: Maryland Manual On-Line)

A Star Democrat article (2016-01-13) reported that mid- and lower- Eastern Shore Delegate Christopher Adams repeated his opposition to a 2012 sprinkler system mandate for all new residential single family homes during a January 11 “meet and greet” function in the Town of Hurlock. Citing concerns over costs to residents in rural areas on well water, Adams has introduced legislation (HB 19) that would let local jurisdictions modify the sprinkler mandate but also require homebuilders to offer homebuyers a choice to have them installed in jurisdictions where they are not mandated. From the article:

[Hurlock] Councilman Charles Cephas asked Adams if there will be debate during the 2016 legislative session regarding a sprinkler mandate, which was adopted in 2012, before Adams took office in 2015, and which went into effect this past July 1. …

“What I’ll tell you is I’m not debating whether the sprinkler systems are effective,” Adams said. “Rather, I’m interested in giving the control on whether we’re going to make this a mandate to the county councils and local jurisdictions.” …
Adams said in rural areas with no public water or sewer, “the cost of $8,000 for a 1,200-square-foot house is far too much to overcome.”

Adams said, in many cases, if a first-time homebuyer intends to install a sprinkler system in a newly-constructed home, the homebuyer would either have to create a second mortgage for the house or the expense would need to come out of the homebuyer’s pocket.

“That halts affordable, single-family home construction and that’s going to be your first-time homebuyer, or people looking to downsize and come to the Eastern Shore,” Adams said. “These are hurdles and I’m very hopeful and anxious that I can pass this bill.”

Useful Links

HB 19 of 2016 (Delegate Adams Sprinkler System Legislation)

HB 366 /SB 602 (2012 Sprinkler System Mandate)

Prior Conduit Street Coverage on Sprinkler Mandate

Anne Arundel County Executive Reforms Zoning and Project Approval Process

Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh
Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh (Source: Anne Arundel County)

A Baltimore Sun article (2016-01-12) announced that Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh has issued Executive Order 82, which will reorganize land use and permitting personnel and reallocate decision-making authority in order to streamline zoning approvals. The executive order is based on recommendations the Soltesz Group consulting firm, which was commissioned by the county to review its development and project approval process. The article detailed the personnel changes:

Two of the executive order’s three points swap employees between the Office of Planning and Zoning and the Department of Inspections and Permits, in an effort to “enhance efficiency and communication,” according to a draft of the directive.

All county engineer reviewers, who are currently housed within the planning and zoning office, will be reassigned to inspections and permits, while zoning enforcement inspectors, who work for inspections and permits, will be moved to planning and zoning. Both changes will take place by April 1.

Owen McEvoy, a spokesman for Schuh, said between 20 and 30 employees will be affected by the switch. No jobs will be eliminated in the process, according to Schuh, though he said as the reform process advances and people settle into new departments, “we may find opportunities for savings.”

The article also stated that the executive order also grants mid-level employees more power to make routine zoning decisions in order to move projects more quickly through the process starting on February 1.

“Right now, decision-making authority is concentrated at the top of these departments and, in effect, those very senior individuals become bottlenecks because junior and mid-level officers can’t make decisions on their own; they have to always go to the top,” he said in an interview Monday.

“What we’re going to do is create a set of rules and guidelines to establish the parameters of authority at significantly lower levels in these organizations, in these bureaucracies, so that decision-making can happen much more quickly, much more efficiently, without always having to go to the senior officers.”

The article explained that Schuh plans to introduce legislation in the coming months to further reform and change the zoning approval and development review process. Several of the proposed changes include allowing the use of third-party certified engineers to review projects, reducing the number of planning and zoning reviews for each project, and changing the major subdivision process.

Useful Links

Anne Arundel County Press Release on Executive Order  82 (2016-01-12)

Executive Order 82

Talbot County Officials Discuss Project Snags with Planning Secretary

Talbot County planners and engineers were able to discuss the snags and red tape issue areas of many of the county’s projects, turning to Planning Secretary David Craig for advice and help when he visited the county late last year.

According to The Star Democrat,

Talbot’s chief planning officer Mary Kay Verdery loaded the November tour with strategic stops where she needed the most advice and help from Secretary Craig.

The tour began with the proposed site of the new hospital just north of town, a project of keen public interest for over a decade, according to information released by the Talbot County Planning and Zoning office.

The history of that venture began before 2007, when the county council offered to buy 78 acres and donate it to what was then Shore Health System, according to the county.

Since then it has been an up and down project, with the hospital’s application for a Certificate of Need facing what the county hopes is only a temporary block in the offices of the Maryland Health Care Commission. The application has been under review since September 2012.

Other stops on the tour included Pickering Creek Audubon Center, Billy’s Point, the site of the new Savage nursery and landscaping company, and the Triple Creek Winery.

To read more about Talbot County’s planning projects and status, please visit The Star Democrat online.