Must Anne Arundel County Grow? Part 2
by William N. Papian

Some growth and development is inevitable, I argued in this space on March 12-18, that growth can be managed, limited and contained by the judicious use of a county's zoning regulations. Now appears to be the opportune time to overhaul those regulations with an eye to improving their usefulness for managing growth and development in Anne Arundel County.

Today I want to stir the pot with an interesting but not yet well-known fact that bears importantly on this issue:

Residential growth and development in the average county does not pay for itself. On the contrary, growth costs taxpayers more than it ever returns in revenues. As this fact sinks in, more and more people are understanding the need to manage growth, using the best tools available, the zoning codes.

But several problems with our zoning regulations require exposure, debate and legislative revision. One is the issue of grandfathering old residential subdivisions, a practice that allows old subdivisions (or portions of them) to be developed under the zoning standards - if any - in place when those lands were platted many years ago. No zoning regulations existed before 1953, and some passed since then are outdated.

The policy question can be put quite simply: Should Anne Arundel County continue to allow the development of old parcels of land under long outdated zoning standards?

Many citizens would say "No."

Yet a recent draft revision of Anne Arundel's Subdivision Article grandfathers any "lot or parcel created: (I) prior to July 1, 1953 or; (II) on or after July 1, 1953 in conformance with the law in effect at the time the lot or parcel was created or; (III) on or after July 1, 1953 in conformance or recognized in compliance with the policies and zoning laws in effect at the time of its creation."

Grandfathering isn't a black or white issue. For example, it would be both unfair and illegal to require the owner of an undersized single lot or parcel in one of those ancient subdivisions to conform to today's standards, because that requirement would make the lot useless. Language changes can be carefully crafted to allow for reasonable exceptions yet not allow unreasonable ones as the present language does. The waiver process is one possible approach; there are others.

In most cases, requiring that an ancient residential subdivision (or parts of it) be developed in accordance with up-to-date regulations would mean fewer houses on larger lots, with accompanying higher prices. The requirement would not make that subdivision portion economically useless; far from it.

Almost needless to repeat, proper zoning regulations are tools for managing growth; they've been used for that purpose for many years, and their judicious use can continue to benefit our county.

To that end, it is well past sunset time for grandfathering!


Bill Papian is president of the Shady Side Peninsula Association. Reach him or the association at Box 114, Shady Side 20764.

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Volume VI Number 13
April 2-8, 1998
New Bay Times

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