Monday, July 6, 2015

Property rights versus public benefit - Example Middle River

There is a beautiful piece of land sitting right next to a waterway feeding into the Chesapeake, a body of water struggling to maintain wildlife for decades. But it is zoned residential because Baltimore County's zoning doesn't even know the term open space. The State's regulation ask for a 300' buffer along the bay shore but there are large loopholes in that requirement. The biggest is a reference to surrounding development patterns. In other words, if there was sinning in the past, there will be in the future. This is like making prostitution a little less illegal if it occurs on a known prostitution strip. 
Satellite photo (Google)

Baltimore County Zoning Map
Of course, there is the option of down-zoning (Resource Conservation) or the county buying the land outright to make it a park, options that happen once in a while but understandably not very often and certainly, they didn't happen here. In the former case the council person looses valuable supporters needed for the next campaign and the latter is just too costly to be standard procedure. 

Absent those up front controls being in place, a powerful developers swoop in and leave the surrounding communities to fend for themselves. In this case, it isn't just a matter of NIMBY-ism.

Access to the waters of the Chesapeake and its tributary's is already widely limited to private property owners which hold most of the best spots to enjoy the water, boat slips and all.

Given that Baltimore County's development regulations are a jungle that only a few well vested land use lawyers know to navigate, a favorite developer option of developing across a hodge podge of underlying zoning districts is to propose a PUD, a planned unit development, that can permit features that may not be allowed in the underlying zoning districts. Lately, the PUD option comes with a price, a "public benefit element." Not surprisingly, neither size or character of this public benefit having been precisely defined, the public benefit became a football in the negotiations and a prized tool to sway NIMBY's.

In many jurisdictions here and overseas, access to large bodies of water (tidal and non tidal) is guaranteed by strict rules which include restrictions for private access control or rules that allow public access along the shoreline, no matter if the governing jurisdictions are run by conservatives or liberals. The Chesapeake Bay should finally get the shoreline protections it deserves. The public
Baltimore SUN location map
benefits of world's largest estuary should easily trump property rights. The long-term benefit and value of good public water access even lifts the values of all provite property in the vicinity. But the reality is still sprawl and degradation of the Bay.

The matter is somewhat reminiscent of the much larger "Four Seasons" development proposed for a site on Kent Island that sits within the cHesapeake Bay critical area as well. That matter has been in the courts for years. A Developer appeal had been rejected just recently. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA 


private use abuts the water, not an inch left for passage

Hopewell Pointe is a recent development on the same peninsula.
The architecture of these vinyl boxes is no better than in the middle
of a subdivision, nothing celebrates waterfront. Non -existent setbacks from the water.

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