Harford Council Wants Out of Dual Role as Zoning Appeals Board

The Harford County Council finds itself in a tricky position and it wants out.

For more than 40 years the Harford County Council has also served as the county’s zoning appeals board. A proposed amendment to the county charter will change that arrangement.  As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

A proposed county charter amendment would remove the Harford County Council as the final authority in zoning appeals cases, a role the council has had since the inception of home rule government more than 40 years ago.

The amendment, introduced at Tuesday’s council meeting as Bill 14-21, would remove a step in the zoning appeals process that has often been criticized by developers and other property owners, but one which makes the elected council members responsible for deciding variances, special exceptions and conditional uses that on occasion can have a significant impact on a neighborhood.

The amendment would keep the initial step in the process of having the appeals case decided by a hearing examiner; however, instead of the examiner’s decision being subject to review, modification and possible rejection by the county council, a contested decision at the examiner level would have to be appealed straight to Harford County Circuit Court.

The hearing examiners would still be employed by the county council.

A public hearing on the change, Bill 14-21, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 3 in the council’s chambers in Bel Air. If the council passes the bill, county voters would still have to approve the amendment during the November general election before it could take effect.

The article notes that the current arrangement of council members presiding as “quasi-judges” over the zoning appeals board is unique among the counties. Most counties have an independent zoning appeals board. The arrangement effectively creates a conflict in which council members cannot speak to or advocate on behalf of their constituents on zoning-related issues until after the appeals are heard. A frustrating situation for both the residents and council members.

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Sun.

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