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Zoning decision not 'just business' for Howard County residents

A group of residents in Howard County, Maryland, are learning a hard lesson about zoning laws. Concerned that a property owner had "pulled a 'bait and switch'" on local government officials, they recently took the issue to representatives of the County Council. At that meeting, they learned that they will have to approach their problem from a different angle.

In May 2011, the property owner in question had asked the zoning board to change the zoning on his property from residential to business. The board agreed, though not unanimously. The owner's initial plan was to add a café to his existing garden center, he said, claiming he needed the income from the café to offset losses during winter months.

Two years later, the plan has changed significantly. Rather than a café, he wants to put in two restaurants -- and a bank. And the garden center would stay.

Neighbors have a number of concerns about the project. First, the new businesses will contribute to already bad traffic problems and will add bright lights and noise to the neighborhood. Second, the scope creep was actually what the property owner planned all along. That, the residents said, should be enough grounds for reversing the zoning decision.

The officials surprised the residents by saying that the council knew full well that this could happen. Changing the parcel's zoning to business allowed the owner to use the property for any business purpose; as a result, he is well within his rights to build more than he said he would. The council would not consider rescinding the zoning change at this time or any time in the future.

There may still be a way to resolve the issue -- two ways, actually. We'll get into the alternatives in our next post.

Source: Baltimore Sun, "Garden Center not a 'bait and switch' for Howard Council," Amanda Yeager, Oct. 24, 2013

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