Frederick County officers set legislative priorities for brand spanking new yr | Council

County Executive Jan Gardner and County Council members are prepared to dive into several legislative areas in 2021, a year in which many hope coronavirus vaccinations lead to more typical government business.

Gardner (D) said some of her proposed bills — scheduled to be sent to County Council in January — were in response to constituent concerns.

One involves allowing variances for additions or modifications to “non-conforming structures.” Those structures can be residential or business facilities in zoning districts where those uses would not be permitted, but the buildings themselves usually pre-date zoning regulations. About a dozen cases involving the structures happen each year, Gardner said.

“This would allow a property owner to go through the Board of Appeals to seek a variance for approval within certain limitations,” Gardner wrote in an email. “It is a reasonable solution for people who may have unknowingly bought a property that has a nonconforming structure and then can’t expand or modify the structure.”

Another bill aims to regulate agricultural-zoned land accepting fill dirt from a construction project, which could lead to nuisances for nearby residents like dust, road damage and other issues, Gardner said.

A third bill is to align county law with a state law, Kari’s Law, which requires businesses, like a hotel, to have phones that connect to 911 without having to dial another number to get an outside line, Gardner said. Frederick County needs to enact its own ordinance to line up with state law, she explained.

Working with the agricultural community takes time, as many farmers are often busy in the summer and fall months, she said. That leaves November through March to get a lot of policy discussion done.

“I’m in that crunch period right now,” Keegan-Ayer said.

Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) is in the preliminary stages of drafting a bill to look at blighted and abandoned properties across the county. He said he’s heard from residents about those structures and is exploring whether higher taxation or incentives to property owners can address the issue.

“Some of these properties have been sitting since all the mortgages went belly up 10, 12 years ago,” Blue said, referring to the Great Recession.

Councilman Jerry Donald (D) is also interested in legislation involving property, but his involves historic designations. Currently, there are 10 criteria that can lead to that designation, ranging from whether a historical event happened there, it is a rare example of a style or construction technique or exhibits artistic value, among several others, according to county code.

Donald is concerned that under current law, applicants can apply for the designation with only one criteria and then remove that once they get the designation. People may want the historic designation to convert the property into a wedding venue, for instance.

“If you’re going to declare something to be historic because of ‘x’, the person who then asked for something to be historic because of ‘x’ should leave ‘x’ in existence,” Donald said.

Councilman Steve McKay (R) is looking to update a bill introduced by former Councilman Billy Shreve (R), which passed in 2018. It gives property tax credits to military veterans and the elderly.

McKay wanted to waive an “income needs test” that County Council added to the legislation, which initially was not included in corresponding state law.

“For me, it shouldn’t be about need, it should be about gratitude and doing something like this for our retired military in gratitude to their service,” McKay said.

The first County Council meeting of 2021 is scheduled for Jan. 5.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel