‘Clustering’ now included as an option
OAKLAND — A second round of draft updates to Garrett County land ordinances makes more concessions for development and places fewer restrictions on land use, after public protests caused officials to rethink stricter regulations in a previous draft.
The long process of updating the planning and land development ordinances entered a new phase last week with the release of revised drafts for public review. The documents — drafts of the subdivision ordinance, sensitive areas ordinance and Deep Creek watershed zoning ordinance — contain a second round of changes, following the first changes and public comment period that took place in the fall.
The first versions spurred some public uproar over a provision that would affect the development of rural resource and agricultural resource land. That provision would have required at least 66 percent of subdivision land parcels in those areas to be set aside as “resource parcels,” or open land.
The provisions do not affect the entire county, but only areas specifically designated “agricultural resource” and “rural resource.” However, those two areas do span large portions of the county.
The resource parcel stipulation was intended to protect areas of forest, natural resources and farmland from development, according to its language. It would have prevented sprawling development by requiring the majority of a parcel to be set aside, and clustering development onto lots of no minimum size on one-third of the parcel.
“It’s trying to preserve a portion of the land to keep it as productive farmland or productive timberland,” said John Nelson, director of planning and land development. “That’s the real purpose of the clustering. What we’re saying is, create smaller lots but save a portion of the land. Maybe it would belong to a homeowners association, and they could lease it as a farm.”
But many farmers and other landowners spoke out against the measure, arguing that it directly or indirectly placed too many restrictions on how the land could be used.
Paul Miller, president of the Garrett County Farm Bureau board of directors, said his organization objected because they saw the clustering requirement as an infringement on private property rights, affecting the way landowners could sell their land. It could also have driven down property values by restricting potential land uses, he said.
Due to those and other public objections, the clustering requirement has been removed in the latest draft, Nelson said. Instead, the document includes clustering as an option, and contains incentives to attempt to encourage that type of development, he explained.
Miller said the latest draft of the ordinance has addressed his concerns.
“If it holds as it is, we’re satisfied,” he said.
A provision in the first draft of the updated Deep Creek watershed zoning ordinance also caused a stir because it would have put strict requirements on development on crests and ridge lines visible from the surface or shoreline of the lake. The proposed changes also would have required trees to be planted between structures and the lake to screen them from view.
“About four years ago we had held public meetings about people’s views on changes and development in the county,” Nelson said. “The development that is occurring on the ridge lines around the lake was the No. 1 response. People were worried about the development taking away from the natural scenic beauty of those ridges.”
But the strict requirements didn’t sit well with people specifically interested in those properties for the development potential and unobstructed lake views. In the latest draft, the provision has been changed to require only that trees be planted around the sides and rear of new structures to help them blend into the surrounding vegetation, Nelson explained. No trees are required for the front, or lake-facing side.
The county planning commission has been working on the ordinance updates since spring 2009, mainly because state law requires the ordinances to be adjusted to remain consistent with changes to the county comprehensive plan adopted in 2008, according to Nelson.
A public hearing on the latest versions of the ordinances will be held in coming weeks, though nothing has been scheduled yet.
Updated versions of the ordinance drafts and maps are available online on the county Web site at. www.garrettcounty.org