They would allow for warehouses & distribution centers.
Frederick, Md (KM) Changes to Frederick County’s zoning laws covering mixed use properties was the topic of a public hearing Tuesday night. The bill before the County Council would allow warehouses and/or distribution centers in areas zoned mixed use.
The Jefferson Tech Park was planned for homes, retail stores and office space. That would allowed residents to live where they work and not have to travel down I-270. But the owners of the Tech Park say they’ve had a hard time finding occupants for their offices, according to Council President Bud Otis, whose sponsoring the bill. “You don’t have to look around very far to see that our county has a lot of empty office space. We’re not using as much space as we used to. A lot of people are working from home. And so the need for large office space is not as much as it use to be,” says Otis.
Brad Cline, a managing member of the Jefferson Park, agreed. “We have been trying a long time. We had users at one time; they were office users. I think the world knows that e-commerce is the way to go. These are clean jobs. These buildings will be accessed at high value, similar to office buildings as you can tell. It will create jobs in your county, and it will also generate our retail which we’ve been pushing so hard for,” he says.
But most of the citizens who testified were against this change in the mixed use zoning. Ray Barnes, the Chief Administrative Officer for the County Executive, expressed the County Executive’s opposition to the bill. He said homeowners in the Jefferson Tech Park community purchased their homes in anticipation of office buildings being constructed nearby. “Wholesaling and warehousing, based on the nature of the business, requires a different type of building, served largely by truck traffic, outside storage, and, in many cases, 24-hour operation,” says Barnes. He said developers who want to add warehouses and distribution centers to their properties, should go through the planning process once again.
Jefferson Tech Park resident Laura Cody, is also opposed. “Do any of you live next to a distribution center,” she asked. “Probably not. Me neither. Nobody wants to.”
The Council took no action on the bill, but it could go to a workshop in the future. During the hearing, there were questions whether this proposed ordinance violated state law regarding development rights and responsibilities agreements, and whether they would need to be renegotiated. Attorney Gus Bauman said that would not be necessary. “The MXD zone’s purpose and intent spells out the need for development flexibility as the market changes. Bill 1721 simply implements through legislation that flexibility with a common sense tweaking of language,” he said. “DRRA need not be amended.”
Kai Hagen represented the Smarter Growth Alliance when he delivered his testimony against the bill. “Specifically, we argue that the bill is ambiguous and poorly constructed; violates the rights of adjoining property owners; violates the terms of current development rights and responsibilities agreements, including MXD property,” he said.
In other action, the Council approved a petition from the State Highway Administration to close the intersection of the western end of Old Frederick Road at Route 15. That would make that part of Old Frederick Road into a cul-de-sac. “The reason they’d like to make these changes is to limit the number of crossing vehicles at the at-grade intersections,and that would improve safety,” says Dave Olney,Project Manager for the County’s Office of Transportation Engineering.; He says this is one of four intersections SHA wants to reconfigure to improve safety.
As part of their vote, Council members agreed to change the name of the western leg of Old Frederick Road to Hansonville Court.
Olney says SHA will redesign the median so that motorists heading south on Route 15 can’t turn left to get on Old Frederick Road, and those heading northbound can’t make a U-Turn. “The proposal is expected to have a very minor impact on the traveling public,” he says “The traffic volume on Old Frederick Road is extremely low. The last time we counted it I believe it was 13 vehicles per day.”
Seven bills were also introduced to the Council on Tuesday. Four came from Councilman Billy Shreve: One wold provide a property tax credit for elderly residents and military service retirees; Another would exempt public safety facilities run by volunteer fire and rescue companies, such as fire halls, from fees levied by the Department of Planning and Development and the Division of Utilities and Solid Waste Management; require Council members to complete an education course on planning and zoning issues 30 days after taking office; and require the County Zoning Administrator to provide the Council with a monthly zoning code violation notices and other specific information. One bill introduced by Councilman Tony Chmelik would allow wood waste recycling operations in general commercial zones with a special exception. And Council President Otis introduced legislation to increase the county’s general fund balance which currently stands at 5% of general fund expenditures.
The Council also approved mutual aid agreements between the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Hagerstown City Police.
By Kevin McManus