Plan­ners, coun­cil re­view La Plata zon­ing code up­dates

Maryland Independent - - News - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @Tif­fIndyNews

Re­struc­tur­ing the zon­ing code has been a very long process for the Town of La Plata’s Plan­ning Com­mis­sion mem­bers, say­ing they have made ef­forts to make the code easy to read and well-struc­tured.

Af­ter re­cently fin­ish­ing sev­eral ses­sions of le­gal re­view for the zon­ing code, the plan­ning staff pro­vided the pro­posed Com­pre­hen­sive Zon­ing Code draft to the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and La Plata Town Coun­cil at the first of many joint work ses­sions, which be­gan on April 4. The joint work ses­sions al­low the com­mis­sion mem­bers and coun­cil mem­bers to re­view the draft as a whole and iden­tify changes or con­cerns.

Se­nior Plan­ner Jea­nine Harrington said the plan­ning depart­ment wants to pro­vide a code that is clear, ap­proach­able and easy to use.

“We also want things to look bet­ter and look more co­he­sive in the town,” Harrington said.

“We de­cided that maybe we were box­ing our­selves in too much and we are try­ing to progress in a way that I think ev­ery­one wants to see,” said De­bra Posey, plan­ning com­mis­sion chair wo­man. “A lot of the [Zon­ing Code] was old and there was a lot of cross ref­er­enc­ing that we found was in er­ror be­cause changes hadn’t been made over time and the cross ref­er­ences hadn’t been checked. We came across in­con­sis­ten­cies as well. We did an over­write to re­move and re­place rather than try to piece to­gether dif­fer­ent sec­tions.”

Coun­cil­man Keith Back said def­i­ni­tions such as “ur­ban” and “town homes” were changed in the zon­ing code in pre­vi­ous years but the ref­er­ences for des­ig­nated zones didn’t al­ways match up. He also said the ad­di­tional charts make the code eas­ier to un­der­stand, very com­pre­hen­sive and are lo­cated in one cen­tral place for oth­ers to see.

Plan­ning Di­rec­tor Jeremy Hurl­butt said there have been in­cre­men­tal changes and up­dates to the zon­ing code in re­cent decades but the ma­jor­ity of it has not been com­pre­hen­sively up­dated since its adop­tion.

“This will be the first of a num­ber of work ses­sions to go over the com­pre­hen­sive zon­ing code up­date that started in 2010 shortly af­ter the com­pre­hen­sive plan was adopted in 2009. When we took over the process, we laid out a time­line and es­sen­tially this was tak­ing plan­ning com­mis­sion’s di­rec­tion in try­ing to im­ple­ment the changes,” Hurl­butt said.

Hurl­butt said that staff also plans to send no­tices to devel­op­ers and prop­erty own­ers that are af­fected by the zon­ing code changes to keep them in­formed and then re­ceive their feed­back as well.

The staff up­dated the zon­ing code’s pur­pose and in­tent, deleted out­dated def­i­ni­tions, added new def­i­ni­tions, and re­moved un­nec­es­sary or in­ef­fi­cient pro­ce­dures and stan­dards. Ma­jor up­dates also in­clude improvements made to the zon­ing code’s struc­ture, ref­er­enc­ing, illustration of key con­cepts, out­line sub­mit­tal re­quire­ments, clar­i­fi­ca­tion of pro­ce­dures and roles, while also con­sol­i­dat­ing may also need to wait a lit­tle bit as the town tran­si­tions into us­ing the new zon­ing code,” said Coun­cil­man Lynn Gil­roy.

Coun­cil­man Joseph Nor­ris said this might not be the right time to have these joint meet­ings since there will be a new town coun­cil soon.

“We know there will be a dif­fer­ent coun­cil in May and I was un­der the im­pres­sion that the can­di­dates would be in­vited to this joint work ses­sion,” Nor­ris said. “We know some of them are go­ing to be sit­ting on this coun­cil, at least one new coun­cil mem­ber, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to do this at this time, be­fore the elec­tion.”

Coun­cil­man Wayne Win­kler agreed.

“We prob­a­bly dropped the ball in terms of mak­ing a for­mal re­quest to all of the can­di­dates,” Hurl­butt said. “We were ready for this dis­cus­sion months ago and we held off think­ing that if we did an over­view to get the process started, then the can­di­dates could be a part of it.”

Posey said the com­mis­sion mem­bers wanted to keep the zon­ing code’s up­date process flow­ing and not stag­nate.

“If we have to read­dress it with a new coun­cil, then we will, but in the in­terim we would still like to keep it mov­ing for­ward,” Posey said. “Input from the coun­cil is much ap­pre­ci­ated and will be taken se­ri­ously. It’s an elec­tion and you don’t know what the outcome is go­ing to be, so my theory is we still need to be in busi­ness. A new coun­cil may bring in another per­spec­tive but it will keep on mov­ing.”

“We have been on the coun­cil for a long time so we can pro­vide input that the new coun­cil mem­bers may not be able to pro­vide be­cause they are new and may not have the back­ground or ex­pe­ri­ence or a de­sire to speak up about it,” Hale said. “I think we can do it. I think it’s right for us to be here even if we’re not go­ing to be around next month. We can at least give the ben­e­fit of our ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Joint work ses­sions with the plan­ning com­mis­sion and town coun­cil to fur­ther dis­cuss the zon­ing code up­dates will con­tinue un­til Au­gust.

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