Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Bill allows anyone to apply for zoning changes

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State Del. Galen R. Clagett (D) will ask his delegation colleagues Friday to support legislation allowing anyone to apply for a change to Frederick County’s zoning laws.

Clagett’s bill would allow any property owner in Frederick County to pay a fee and have a land-use change considered by the county’s Planning Commission and commissioners themselves.

Clagett considers the legislation crucial after commissioners last year adopted a policy that three of the five board members must support a zoning change before a public hearing is scheduled and the process begins.

‘‘A lot of people have called me saying they have been denied the right to petition their government,” Clagett said. ‘‘[Commissioners] are denying the rights to petition their government.”

Clagett contacted the Maryland Attorney General’s office last year, only months after commissioners adopted the process change. He asked for an opinion as to whether the Maryland General Assembly could enact legislation authorizing any person to submit an application for a zoning text change in Frederick County.

‘‘Frederick County is a commissioner county,” said Bonnie A. Kirkland, assistant attorney general, in Sept. 12 letter. ‘‘It has not adopted home rule under provisions of the Maryland Constitution. Thus, the General Assembly has the power to enact legislation pertaining specifically to Frederick County, including legislation that amends the county’s zoning authority under Article 66B. For these reasons, it is my view that legislation to authorize any person to submit an application for a zoning text amendment in Frederick County raises no constitutional or legal question.”

Commissioners changed the ‘‘zoning text amendment” process, which previously allowed anyone to request a zoning change, after Commissioner John ‘‘Lennie” Thompson Jr. (R) complained that it was easier for a resident to initiate legislation than a commissioner.

Thompson, who in his 10 years in office has proposed a slew of legislation, was frustrated that he needed three favorable board votes for his proposals to move forward. He expressed concern that residents could just submit a zoning change and it would easily move through the process, taking up what he considered valuable time by county staff.

Thompson is critical of Clagett’s bill and suspicious of those supporting it.

‘‘The full-moon, black-helicopter, pitchfork and torch crowd on the anarchic fringe of the property rights movement are the ones pushing the Clagett bill,” Thompson said in an e-mail. ‘‘During the 2001-2002 time frame all we heard from this crowd was that the county commissioners should not even discuss, let alone introduce, proposals to change any land use regulation unless all property owners were provided a written advance notice and an opportunity to be heard before any such discussion took place. The same bunch are now supporting the Clagett bill which would allow anyone to introduce, without notice, proposals to rezone land owned by others.”

Clagett said he has heard from not only developers, but farmers, business owners and residents.

On Monday, Board President Jan H. Gardner (D) sent a three-page e-mail to the delegation warning them of what she will do if they support the bill. ‘‘If this bill proceeds, I believe out of fairness to the elected county commissioners, I will have to allow Commissioner Thompson’s proposals for Cochise, Geronimo, the prohibition of real estate signs, the elimination of golf courses in ag zones and others to go through the entire public hearing process since all of the commissioners should have the same ability to initiate legislation,” Gardner said.