Com­mis­sion­ers ap­prove Aspen In­sti­tute re­zon­ing

Record Observer - - News - By MIKE DAVIS mdavis@kibay­times.com

CEN­TRE­VILLE — The Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers unan­i­mously ap­proved the re­zon­ing of more than 100 acres of the tax map from Neigh­bor­hood Con­ser­va­tion-5 (NC-5) to Coun­try­side (CS) zon­ing dur­ing its Tues­day, Oct. 11, meet­ing.

Aspen In­sti­tute’s Wye River Con­fer­ence Cen­ter, lo­cated on 1,000 acres given to the or­ga­ni­za­tion by the Houghton fam­ily, was pre­vi­ously zoned Coun­try­side (CS) and Neigh­bor­hood Con­ser­va­tion (NC-5). The prob­lem was the Houghton House was split di­rectly down the mid­dle by the two zon­ings.

Barry Grif­fith with Lane En­gi­neer­ing, who tes­ti­fied to the county com­mis­sion­ers dur­ing its Sept. 27 meet­ing, said he had never seen a zon­ing line go through the mid­dle of a struc­ture. Grif­fith has been a prac­tic­ing plan­ner in the public and pri­vate sec­tor for al­most 30 years.

Grif­fith said in 1967 Queen Anne’s County had its first zon­ing com­pleted and all of the prop­er­ties were zoned Res­i­den­tial 1, the ba­sic ru­ral district at the time. A sub­di­vi­sion was cre­ated in 1984 on the prop­erty that cre­ated five lots along the Wye River, but when the county went through a “very sig­nif­i­cant” com­pre­hen­sive re­zon­ing in 1987, Grif­fith said, the lots were not in­cluded in the maps used in the up­date. On top of out­dated and in­ac­cu­rate maps, coun­ties did not have Global In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems or com­puter-aided draft­ing to as­sist the zon­ing process, he said.

“Those lots did not yet show up on the map that they had,” Grif­fith said. “And that’s not unusual.”

Dur­ing that time, Grif­fith said, plan­ners used the lat­est avail­able as­sess­ment and tax­a­tion map as the base for the zon­ing maps. As­sess­ment and tax­a­tion maps were not up­dated an­nu­ally, Grif­fith said, so there was al­ways a “lag be­tween sub­di­vi­sions and line re­vi­sions that oc­curred on the pub­li­ca­tion of those maps.”

Sim­ply put, Grif­fith said the zon­ing line was an er­ror. Grif­fith said in most cases zon­ing lines fol­low prop­erty lines, roads and nat­u­ral fea­tures.

Grif­fith said the NC-5 zon­ing, which al­lows five-acre lot sizes, is meant to be used for ex­ist­ing res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods.

“That clearly is not the char­ac­ter of the Houghton House prop­erty,” he said. “The Houghton House prop­erty is agri­cul­ture, it’s in­sti­tu­tional, and these are all things that are more akin to the coun­try­side.”

Joseph Stevens, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Aspen In­sti­tute, said the Houghton House re­ceived Board of Ap­peals con­di­tional use ap­proval in 2008, which was reaf­firmed in 2011, for an ex­pan­sion of the house. The ex­pan­sion, he said, would about dou­ble the num­ber of rooms.

Stevens said he was asked to see if it was pos­si­ble to “have some rooms at the Houghton House, once ex­pan­sion is done, be avail­able to rent to the gen­eral public ver­sus sim­ply be­ing able to rent to some­body who’s at the con­fer­ence.” Stevens told Aspen In­sti­tute it was pos­si­ble to of­fer rentals on one half the house but not the other be­cause the Neigh­bor­hood Con­ser­va­tion-5 zon­ing did not al­low for coun­try inns.

Stevens said the prop­erty’s agri­cul­tural uses are al­lowed in the Coun­try­side zon­ing but has lim­i­ta­tions in the Neigh­bor­hood Conser va­tion-5.

Grif­fith said that there is no in­ten­tion for any res­i­den­tial sub­di­vi­sions to be built, which he said is what the NC-5 zon­ing is bet­ter suited for. Stevens said the NC-5 zon­ing would be the eas­i­est des­ig­na­tion for Aspen In­sti­tute to de­velop fur­ther.

Stevens also said that when the prop­erty was ac­quired by the Houghton fam­ily, it came with re­stric­tions that say res­i­den­tial sub­di­vi­sions are not al­lowed.

Cindy Bu­niski, Aspen In­sti­tute Wye Cam­pus ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said the group talked about run­ning a coun­try inn mul­ti­ple years ago when the econ­omy strug­gled but de­cided it didn’t “want to get into that busi­ness.”

Dur­ing the re­ces­sion, Bu­niski said, the in­sti­tute lost a lot of cor­po­rate busi­nesses. Once cor­po­rate busi­nesses came back to the con­fer­ence cen­ter, Bu­niski said an ex­ec­u­tive or­der was com­pleted that said no govern­ment busi­ness could go off site, caus­ing about 25 per­cent of its busi­ness to dis­ap­pear.

“It was re­ally tough and it hasn’t come back yet,” she said.

The prop­erty came with­out an en­dow­ment, so thou­sands of acres and about 40 build­ings need to be main­tained from what­ever rev­enue it re­ceives from the con­fer­ence cen­ter.

PHOTO BY MIKE DAVIS

The Houghten House, lo­cated on the Aspen In­sti­tute cam­pus, was re­zoned from Neigh­bor­hood Con­ser­va­tion-5 to Coun­try­side dur­ing the county com­mis­sion’s Tues­day, Oct. 11, meet­ing. The pre­vi­ous zon­ing line split the house di­rectly down the mid­dle.

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