Anne Arundel County Council Debates Controversial Rural Conservation Legislation

Anne Arundel County Council members on Monday voted down a change to the Rural Conservation Act that would have incorporated the Mayo peninsula into the bill’s proposed conservation area.

Mayo residents have been some of the most vocal in protesting Bill 82-16, which draws a line around portions of the county designated for conservation. This “rural conservation line” would mostly trace state-mandated growth tier boundaries, which indicate areas targeted for development and others intended to remain rural.

From The Capital Gazette,

Under the measure, land within a designated “rural conservation area” would still be eligible for low-density development allowed under the current zoning code. But changing a zoning designation to allow higher density or a more intense use — a practice called “upzoning” — would become more difficult.

Most of the conserved area would be located in the county’s rural south. Mayo peninsula residents worry the measure would push more development into the non-conserved areas, including their community.

County Executive Steve Schuh, who considers the rural conservation bill a legislative priority, has said the measure is not intended to threaten other areas. He said he intends to put forward additional legislation in coming months to address other development concerns, beginning with a bill reforming cluster development introduced at Monday’s meeting.

Two dozen people testified on the proposal and many more showed up to watch the council’s last meeting of the year. A majority of the speakers, mostly Mayo residents, were against the bill’s passage.

In response to some of those concerns, Councilman Jerry Walker, R-Crofton, proposed an amendment that would have included the Mayo peninsula in the conservation area. Walker, who represents the peninsula as well as south county, said he still wouldn’t be able to support the rural conservation line even if the amendment passed.

“This does create a situation where there are winners and losers, and in this case tonight the Mayo peninsula is mobilized and they are mobilized because they feel particularly picked on,” Walker said. “I’m doing this on behalf of my constituents because they are fearful of what’s to come.”

Councilmen voted down the change in a 4-3 vote.

Councilman Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, said he feared removing the peninsula would start a “Frankenstein’s monster” process of chipping away at the bill’s protected area. He floated the idea of creating a special zoning overlay protecting the peninsula, instead.

“If we pass an amendment like this, it kind of blows the whole bill up, for better or for worse,” Trumbauer said. “Regardless of what happens to this legislation, whether it lives or dies or transforms into something completely different, I would very much like to see something that addresses concerns about the Mayo peninsula and other peninsulas, because I think that they are very real.”

Council members also voted to remove a part of Woodwardville, in Odenton, from the zone, as well as any conserved areas in District 5, which includes Severna Park and Millersville. Councilman Michael Peroutka, a Millersville Republican who represents District 5, asked for the area to be cut.

“It’s my belief that the drawing of a line is inherently a thing that’s going to decrease economic freedom and vitality on both sides,” he said.

The council also voted to add Patapsco Valley State Park, in north county, into the conservation area.

In other action, the council:

•Voted to amend Bill 87-16, which would allow so-called “nuisance” businesses to be forced by the county to close for up to a year. Under the changes, businesses would need 10 proven arrests for nuisance issues to trigger a hearing (instead of the bill’s original requirement of two police reports) and would be entitled to a Board of Appeals hearing within eight business days of a ruling to close.

•Unanimously voted to extend Laureen Toney’s service as acting controller until April 2017. Toney replaced former Controller Julie Mussog, who left to head the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.

•Amended Bill 86-16, which addresses county pension plan rules, to ensure that proposed changes to the plan selection process would not impact any current employees.

•Voted to hold Bill 73-16, which requires more public notice during comprehensive zoning for changes that are proposed outside of the county planning and zoning office’s application process.

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