(Read A Citizen's Guide to the Harford County Property Development Process by Friends of Harford to see how the parts of land use planning and the development process come together.)
Zoning tells us what can be done with the land that we or are neighbors own. It tells us where we may live, shop, work, play and farm. It decides whether we will have trees or shops next door, a shopping center, new housing or a farm across the street. It is a promise that local government gives to its citizens about what can happen with our land.
If the Master Plan and Land Use Element Plan represent the vision and strategy for county land use, then the Zoning Code implements that strategy by delineating where all uses and/or activities can take place and what can be built where. It is the blueprint for the county.
The following is the first paragraph of the Harford County Zoning Code:
"The purpose of this Zoning Code is to promote the health, safety, morals and general welfare of the community by regulating the height, number of stories, size of buildings and other structures, the percentage of lot that may be occupied, the size of lots, yards and other open spaces and the location and use of buildings, structures and land for business, industrial, residential and other purposes. This Zoning Code is enacted to support the Master Plan and designed to control traffic congestion on public roads; to provide adequate light and air; to promote the conservation of natural resources, including the preservation of productive agricultural land; to facilitate the construction of housing of different types to meet the needs of the County’s present and future residents; to prevent environmental pollution; to avoid undue concentration of population and congestion; to facilitate the adequate provision of transportation, water, sewerage, schools, recreation, parks and other public facilities; to give reasonable consideration, among other things, to the character of each district and its suitability for particular uses, with a view to conserving the value of buildings and encouraging the orderly development and the most appropriate use of land throughout the County; to secure safety from fire, panic and other danger; and to conserve the value of property."
Some points about the zoning code you should know:
- The zoning code defines land use categories (zoning districts): Agricultural through Residential, Business, Industrial and Other uses. and permitted uses in each zoning district.
- It provides a method for systematically refining zoning decisions throughout the county through a Comprehensive Zoning Review every eight years. Read about the recently completed CZR.
- It provides a means to obtain relief from certain zoning regulations on an individual property through application to the Board of Appeals for a variance, a Special Exception, or change in a non-conforming use. There is a People's Counsel available to protect the rights of neighbors and the community when the Board of Appeals process is used.
The county recently completed a major rewrite of the code, a Zoning Code Update. Click on the link to see what was done and what FOH did to try to improve it.
Friends of Harford Perspective
Though the ZCU process lasted over two years, replacing a 25+ year old code, the new Zoning Code resulting is not a new document nor is it a positive model for 21 st Century land use planning. The current code is largely a restructuring of the old code. Some significant improvements were made, many opportunities were ignored, and some negative changes were included. Considerable changes will be required in the new laws just to undo regressive language.
Friends of Harford will continue to advocate for needed changes to the Zoning Code when shortcomings surface as it is applied. Perhaps some day in the future Harford County will try to write a truly new code, based on strategic thinking and Smart Growth principles. We will be there to help.
Published Plans, Reports and Links
- Harford County Zoning Code (effective Dec 22, 2008, as amended)
- Harford County Zoning Code Update All the relevant information needed on the current and draft codes, work group meeting schedules and minutes of past meetings are posted at this county government site.
- Model Zoning Codes and other useful publications. Several are found here. They are the product of Smart Growth Online.
- County Code and Ordinances The National Assn of Counties County (NACO) Research Division collects examples of various county codes and ordinances from throughout the country to be used as examples.