In Baltimore County, the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations (BCZR) govern land use issues and zoning. The BCZR contains a comprehensive listing of uses of land that are permitted in a given zone and under what conditions or limitations. In general, a use is either permitted by right or by special exception. If a use is permitted by right, that means the use is allowed, without the need for major detailed local government review, so long as the use meets any required standards and other regulations specified in the BCZR. A use by right is distinctly different than a special exception use, which is only allowed after a review and approval by the appropriate local government authority.
In the County, a special exception use is permitted pursuant to BCZR Section 502. In order to be granted a special exception, an applicant must file a Petition for Special Exception with the County’s Zoning Review Office and the case must be heard by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with the Office of Administrative Hearings. Prior to the hearing, a sign providing notice must be posted conspicuously on the subject property for a period of at least 20 days before the date of the hearing and notice must be placed in at least one newspaper of general circulation at least 20 days before the hearing, as well as notice on the County’s internet website. The notice must provide the address of the property under Petition or if not available, a description of the property and the action requested by the Petition.
On the date the hearing is held, the applicant puts forth their case with an explanation of the use requested in the Petition. The case usually includes testimony from the applicant and possibly an expert in land use such as an engineer, as well as a site plan and any relevant documents or photographs. It is the burden of the applicant to provide evidence that the requested use, according to the provisions of BCZR Section 502.1, will not:
A. Be detrimental to the health, safety or general welfare of the locality involved;
B. Tend to create congestion in roads, streets or alleys therein;
C. Create a potential hazard from fire, panic or other danger;
D. Tend to overcrowd land and cause undue concentration of population;
E. Interfere with adequate provisions for schools, parks, water, sewerage, transportation or other public requirements, conveniences or improvements;
F. Interfere with adequate light and air;
G. Be inconsistent with the purposes of the property’s zoning classification nor in any other way inconsistent with the spirit and intent of these Zoning Regulations;
H. Be inconsistent with the impermeable surface and vegetative retention provisions of these Zoning Regulations; nor
I. Be detrimental to the environmental and natural resources of the site and vicinity including forests, streams, wetlands, aquifers and floodplains in an R.C.2, R.C.4, R.C.5 or R.C.7 Zone.
Citizens or groups that oppose the requested use may also attend the hearing and participate. As with any hearing, the applicant normally proceeds first and those in opposition are then given the opportunity to testify in response and provide evidence such as documents, photographs, signed neighbor petitions, or any other relevant materials or evidence that could assist the ALJ in making the decision of whether or not to grant the special exception. The applicant may be represented by an attorney and certainly it is advisable for citizens or groups, particularly community or homeowners associations, to be represented as well, and possibly have an engineer or other expert of their own to refute the applicant’s case if necessary.