Frederick Council Passes Bills on Election-Year Zoning, Affordable Housing

The Frederick County Council approved a bill Tuesday night that will halt zoning decisions in the heat of election seasons.

The Frederick News-Post reports,

The bill is similar to a policy used by the Board of Aldermen in the city of Frederick and was put forward by County Executive Jan Gardner (D) with the goal of preventing the appearance of political pressure and undue influence in zoning decisions during election campaigns and in the lame-duck period after them.

Amendments to the bill last month changed the window in which the council could not consider such applications from July 1 in an election year to one day after the council’s inauguration in December.

Under the bill as passed, the County Council wouldn’t be able to make such decisions for about five months during the fourth year of their terms.

The bill passed on a 4-3 vote. Republican councilmen Tony Chmelik, Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter voted against the bill. Democrats Jerry Donald, Jessica Fitzwater and M.C. Keegan-Ayer supported the bill, along with council President Bud Otis, who is unaffiliated.

Gardner said Tuesday evening that she will sign the bill when it’s presented to her office.

“I’m very pleased that it passed. It’s a win for good government,” she said.

Shreve attempted to change the bill again on Tuesday night, with an amendment that would have the moratorium begin after the 2018 election. He said the current council was elected to carry out their full duties for full four-year terms.

But Donald pointed out that the bill simply lengthens one area of the council’s legislative powers beyond the lame-duck prohibition already included in the county’s charter.

Shreve’s amendment failed in a similar 4-3 vote.

Chmelik said he opposed the measure because it could create a time burden for builders and developers. He said that industry was also unfairly targeted by the legislation while others were not.

But supporters of the bill said at previous public hearings that special scrutiny should be reserved for zoning decisions, which can permanently change the character of areas in the county.

Also on Tuesday night, the council gave final approval to a bill that increases the fees developers pay in lieu of building affordable housing.

The new calculation — which takes into consideration the “affordability gap” between average home sales and the purchasing power of households earning 70 percent of the area median income — would increase the fee to $26,500 for the next three years.

The previous fee was $17,500.

Under the bill, which was sponsored by Fitzwater, the new fee would be calculated triennially.

It passed 5-2 with support from Chmelik, Donald, Fitzwater, Keegan-Ayer and Otis.

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