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Jay Young

Send a Stretcher Immediately!

Harford Business Ledger: May 2007

If Harford County arrived at the hospital by ambulance, the triage nurse would find the area of planning and zoning needed the most immediate attention.

To continue the medical analogy, Harford County is hemorrhaging in the area of land use regulation, and planning and zoning. The Harford County Code contains a legislative requirement that a comprehensive rezoning be conducted every eight years. After spending well over two years through 2006 on that process -- a process that included innumerable meetings, hearings, bills and amendments -- a new rezoning ordinance was never enacted.

In addition, there has never been a comprehensive overhaul of the County's Development Regulations since its initial passage in 1957. Think of that -- our development regulations were enacted FIFTY YEARS AGO! Our local paper runs a column called "50 Years Ago in the Aegis," full of quaint articles about long-ago Harford County times, manners and customs. Well, it ought to include our development regulations.

Just think what this county looked like in 1957 as compared to what it looks like now. Does it make sense to apply the same rule book now as then? Also, the Zoning Code itself has not had a comprehensive overhaul in over 25 years. Fortunately, there's also a column called "25 Years Ago in the Aegis"!

I'm glad to report that most Harford Countians are sufficiently unhappy with the way the county has developed to realize that the "rule book" needs to be changed. Take one example: the three-story height limit for almost all buildings in almost all zones. That height limit is a prescription for sprawl -- it legislatively requires construction to go out, rather than up, using more land and achieving less density.

So it is very encouraging that on Tuesday, February 6, 2007, the Craig Administration and the Harford County Council made a joint announcement that a comprehensive rewrite of the Development Regulations and Zoning Code had been initiated and that, upon completion, the rewrite would be followed by another comprehensive rezoning process. It is encouraging that the Administration and the Council did anything jointly -- it had been a long time since that occurred.

But the gravity of these issues cannot be overstated, because while the situation is being studied, we continue to operate under the old regulations, and that is not good. The BRAC "train" has left Fort Monmouth (and other parts of the country) and is on its way to Harford County; we must be prepared for it when it arrives. We must have places for those arriving to live in and to work in. It is essential that new growth take place in an orderly fashion, with adequate public facilities and through the implementation of the state- of-the-art cutting-edge planning principles -- not those remaining in antiquated ordinances.

Finally, part of the problem that caused the failure of the last comprehensive rezoning was its closeness in time to the last election -- our local elected officials shied from taking stands that might leave them open to criticism at the polls. Well, current projections indicate that the same thing could happen again. The time line released with the joint announcement calls for completion of the comprehensive rezoning by the end of 2009 -- just nine months before the General Election of November 2010. So, any delays in the new process could place its completion dangerously close to the elections. We cannot let that happen again. It is essential that the administration and the council continue to work together and to work quickly -- because in the meantime we are still hemorrhaging.

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