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.