Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Citywide zoning draft not ready yet

Development moratorium to expire before new code is in place

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Zoning revisions are taking months longer than expected in Rockville, opening a three- or four-month window during which developers could submit new building applications under old code.

The city’s revision process was expected to be concluded before a moratorium on new applications expires in December. But the top-to-bottom review undertaken by the Representatives of Rockville Zoning Ordinance Review (RORZOR) Committee has proven more laborious than expected, members of the committee say.

Instead of completing a draft plan by February as previously planned, the advisory group is now expected to finish its citywide zoning revisions in September.

If the City Council allows the process to move forward, that still leaves months of public outreach before the city Planning Commission and, ultimately, the council consider the changes.

The entire process will be completed no sooner than early spring, Arthur D. Chambers, director of community planning, said. But no firm timeline will be available until after the RORZOR draft is completed.

The slow arrival of the draft means the council must decide to either extend the moratorium or allow developers to submit new building applications after the temporary measure expires on Dec. 15.

‘‘It’s more important to get it right and to have any new development approved under the new zoning ordinance than to have a window open whereby developers can get approved under the old rules,” Mayor Larry Giammo said.

The council narrowly approved the moratorium by a vote of 3-2 in November. The original timeline was too optimistic, predicted Councilwoman Phyllis R. Marcuccio, who, along with Councilman Robert E. Dorsey, dissented.

Prior to that vote, Councilwoman Susan R. Hoffmann successfully lobbied for a scaled-back moratorium, omitting approved projects that were not yet built.

Since the moratorium passed, developers have carefully monitored the RORZOR discussions.

Aware the committee is inclined to grandfather approved preliminary development plans, developers may rush new applications forward if the moratorium expires before new zoning is in place, Marcuccio said.

For that reason, she promised to support its extension.

Tackling issues from mansionization to creating new city zones, RORZOR’s deliberation has been laborious. The complexity of the task has steadily extended the draft deadline since the committee first began meeting in the spring of 2006.

The next mayor and council, to be elected in November, will finally sign off on the new plan that city staff hopes will streamline and update the planning process.

‘‘We want something that both benefits the community with higher standards and is more predictable for all involved — residents and developers,” Giammo said.