Zoning FACT Checks
There has been a lot of talk in the County Executive and Council races regarding development and how it is approved, regulated, and managed in this County. The Civic work I have been doing for almost a decade has informed me on this topic and I could talk about it for days, but I want to go over some of the comments I am hearing that really make me cringe.
1. "The Council doesn't do much zoning."
NONSENSE. The Council "does" an enormous amount of zoning. And not just as the Zoning Board, but also as Council Members. As Zoning Board Members they hear individual cases asking for changes in their zoning, usually to either increase density, or allow a new use on the property, or change their zone to something different because a supposed "mistake" was made earlier, and it is almost always for more residential units to be built. These are individual cases, handled by the Zoning Board Members, who are the same people as the Council Members. When they sit as Council Members, they very, very often deal with legislation on zoning, but instead of being about individual parcels it is about a zoning regulation or law change, usually benefiting developers, as all are affected in a particular zone, versus on a particular parcel. To ignore the ability to "do" zoning via legislation as a Council Member versus just as a Zoning Board member is to ignore an awful lot. So one is approving, the other is allowing. Both have enabled a TON of development over the past 12 years, ignoring infrastructure capacity.
2. "The Zoning Board only hears about 6 cases a year.
True, but if you are allowing over 1000 units of residential development in one decision there is no "only" that makes any sense in that sentence. Also, see above, as the Council they allow tons of increased or hastened development via legislation also.
3. "The Council has to do what the General Plan says in zoning decisions."
NOPE. The Council is not beholden by law or policy to vote any specific way on any legislation or zoning case. I have pleaded in hearings for many years for them to consider that regulations that place a maximum on residential units allowed in a development are just that, maximums. Instead, for so many years, the Council has considered those maximums to be absolute rights, literally at any cost. There are maximums for a reason. Sometimes a parcel has environmental issues, or is near crowded schools. The maximum amount of density allowed per acre in a zone means that less than that is okay too, if needed. Also, every year, the Council gets to approve the chart of allowed residential units per area of the County in the General Plan, EVERY YEAR. They don't have to wait until a whole new plan is done, and they have refused to use this as a planning tool, just rubber-stamping the chart every year. ALSO, the Council can amend the General Plan ANYTIME IT WANTS. That would need to be confirmed as a ballot question, but is not difficult.
4. "The County Executive controls development through DPZ, not the Council".
UNTRUE. The County Executive does employ the director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, who oversees the department and its employees for the County. Technically, if the DPZ was not making development adhere to current regulations and laws, the County Executive could do an overhaul; however, the Council makes the laws and regulations that the DPZ has to regulate that developers follow. If developers are following those laws, then the DPZ cannot stop them.
5. "The County Executive controls the Planning Board because he/she appoints those members".
The County Executive appoints open Planning Board Member seats, but the Council has to approve them. Thus, the control is shared. Planning Board members have 5 year terms, and so they often go through more than one Administration.
If you are concerned about development, and want to know who is endorsed by the entity that has the most development-related issues in its endorsement questionnaire, then go to www.EthicsBallot.com, where we post all questionnaires we have received, not just those endorsed. We also look at voting records, where available, where we have not received a questionnaire, since it is known by the candidates that their answers are publicized.