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How To Win Land Development Issues in Baltimore County

CEDS TRIPLES YOUR CHANCES OF VICTORY

CEDS has the highest success rate in the nation when it comes to helping people protect their homes from the impact of poorly-planned land-development projects.  Much of this success is due to research conducted here in our home area - Baltimore County, MD.  We found that the conventional approach of just hiring a lawyer and contesting permits rarely produced success even though citizens spent thousands of dollars.  This research prompted us to develop two new approaches which combined triple the likelihood citizens will win land use-zoning cases and these victories come at a fraction of the usual cost.  We call this approach Equitable Solutions and Smart Legal Strategies.

So if your home or neighborhood is threatened by development impacts, contact us at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.  After learning the specifics of your case we'll offer initial thoughts on strategy options.  The remainder of this website provides an example of the many ways we can help you win development issues in Baltimore County.

CEDS is nationwide network of more than 135 attorneys and dozens of other professionals including planners, environmental scientists, traffic engineers, political strategists, and fundraisers, to name but a few.  A number of these attorneys and other professionals routinely assist our Baltimore County clients.

WHO'S THE BEST ATTORNEY FOR YOUR CASE

There are a dozen attorneys who will represent Baltimore County citizens in land use, zoning, or environmental cases.  These attorneys vary considerably with respect to areas of specialization, fees, access to experts, and the many other factors which determine the likelihood that they can win your case at an affordable cost.

CEDS works with all of these attorneys, plus many more who practice in other parts of Maryland.  We've also won more cases on behalf of citizens then anyone else in Baltimore County or the rest of Maryland.  Because of both factors CEDS is in a unique position to help you find THE BEST ATTORNEY and THE BEST STRATEGY to win your case. 

If you wish we can discuss your case with several attorneys well suited to win your case.  We'll get their opinion on the likelihood of success and anticipated costs.  We'll then share the results of these conversations with you and offer our recommendation.

So, to get a referral or take advantage of our other services contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.  Additional legal assistance from CEDS is described on our Attorneys webpage. 

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DEVELOPMENT REVIEW PROCESS & PROTECTING YOUR RIGHTS

Baltimore County actually has two processes for the review of development proposals: the Community Input Meeting-Hearing Officer Hearing (CIM-HOH) process and the Development Review Committee (DRC) process. 

Most residential development goes through the CIM-HOH process while most nonresidential development (commercial, industrial, offices, etc.) is reviewed through the DRC.  While Baltimore County's CIM-HOH process provides citizens with considerable opportunity to resolve concern, this is not true for the DRC process.

If the project of concern to you is going through the CIM-HOH process then click the following: Go To CIM-HOH.

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Development Review Committee
Development Review Committee meeting dates for projects subject to this process are posted on the Baltimore County Department of Permits, Approvals & Inspections (PAI) Development Hearings & Meetings webpage. 
If the project of concern to you will be the subject of a Development Review Committee meeting, then you must move very quickly

If you do not have a copy of the project plan then visit the PAI office in Room 123, 111 West Chesapeake Avenue, in Towson.  Request a copy of the plan plus any agency comments. 

Carefully review the plan for any part of the development project which may adversely affect your home, neighborhood, etc.  The CEDS Project Evaluation Checklist will help you consider each factor that could potentially affect your quality of life.  Additionally, Chapters 3 - 26 of our free 300-page book, How To Win Land Development Issues, has further detail on each factor.  If you wish, we can look over the plan too.  To learn more about this service click the following text: Free Plans Review.

If you identify potential impacts then try discussing each with the appropriate Baltimore County staff person.  To identify this person look at the agency comments or contact PAI at 410-887-3321.   For further advice on this topic see Chapter 38: Working With Regulatory Staff in How To Win Land Development Issues

Citizens have a very limited opportunity to present concerns at the Baltimore County Development Review Committee meeting.  However, if you are dissatisfied with the DRC action on the project then you do have the right to appeal.  While legal representation is not a necessity at the DRC, the need is much greater if you decide to appeal the DRC decision.  For a referral to an attorney who has represented citizens successfully in cases similar to yours contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.  For further advice on this topic see Chapter 40: Legal Action in How To Win Land Development Issues

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Community Input Meeting
If you received notice of a Community Input Meeting and you have a copy of the Concept Plan then carefully review the plan for any part of the development project which may adversely affect your home, neighborhood, etc.  The CEDS Project Evaluation Checklist will help you consider each factor that could potentially affect your quality of life.  Chapters 3-26 of our free 300-page book, How To Win Land Development Issues, has further detail on each factor.  If you wish, we can do a no-cost review of the plans to identify negative effects which might be missed by those new to development issues.  To learn more about this service click the following text: Free Plans Review.

If you do not have a copy of the Concept Plan then visit the Baltimore County Department of Permits, Approvals & Inspections (PAI) office - Room 123, 111 West Chesapeake Avenue, in Towson.  Request a copy of the plan plus agency comments.  For questions about Community Input Meetings contact PAI at 410-887-3321 

Baltimore County law clearly intends the Community Input Meeting to be an opportunity for you to ask questions about a project and to identify specific concerns along with solutions.  At least one County employee (usually a PAI project manager) and the applicant will be present at the Community Input Meeting. 

If all of your questions are not answered at the first meeting or a solution is not found to all of your concerns, then CEDS urges you to request a second Community Input Meeting.  You should also request that the Baltimore County's expert on the issues of concern to you attend the second Community Input Meeting. 

If your request for a second Community Input Meeting is not granted or it ends without full resolution of your concerns, then we urge you to immediately begin formulating a strategy for ensuring that the project is not approved until your concerns are fully resolved.  Please do not sit back and wait for the next phase of the process, the development plan hearing.  For advice on how to formulate a strategy contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.  You should also review Chapter 35: Researching Strategy Options in How To Win Land Development Issues

Issues common to many projects and solutions are presented in the CEDS study: A Citizens Perspective on the Baltimore County Development Review Process.  This study also contains a detailed description of the process and other advice on how to win the adoption of solutions to each of your concerns.  Additional advice is provided in Part I of How To Win Land Development Issues.

For further advice on Baltimore County community input meetings click the following title: CIMs.

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Development Plan Hearing
The Development Plan or Hearing Officer's Hearing takes place anywhere from two- to eight-months following the Community Input Meeting.  The Development Plan is supposed to evolve from the Concept Plan.  The Baltimore County Council intended that part of this evolution include addressing the concerns presented by citizens at the Community Input Meeting. 

If you attended the Community Input Meeting (and you signed in) then you should receive a copy of the Development Plan and agency comments.  If you did not receive the plan and comments then contact PAI at 410-887-3321.

As with the Concept Plan, you should thoroughly review the Development Plan for how it may affect your quality of life.  Again, the CEDS Project Evaluation Checklist will help you consider each factor that could potentially affect your home, neighborhood, favorite stream, etc.  Specific guidance on two dozen common development impacts is provided in Part I of How To Win Land Development Issues

Once you have identified potential impacts then discuss each with the Baltimore County staff person responsible for reviewing the project for the impact.  This staffer can be identified by looking through the Development Plan comments or by contacting CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.  For further advice on this topic see Chapter 38: Working With Regulatory Staff in How To Win Land Development Issues

If your concerns are not fully resolved after speaking with staff, then you must begin preparing to present testimony on each issue at the Baltimore County Hearing Officer's Hearing. 

The Hearing Officer's Hearing is a rather formal legal proceeding.  While it is not mandatory that you be represented by an attorney, it does definitely increase your chances of success.  CEDS has a nationwide network of 135 attorneys who specialize in representing citizens in land use, zoning, and environmental cases.  Eight of these attorneys practice in Baltimore County.  For a referral to an attorney who has represented citizens successfully in cases similar to yours contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.  For further advice on this topic see Chapter 40: Legal Action in How To Win Land Development Issues

Citizens resolve their concerns in three basic ways through the Hearing Officer's Hearing phase of the process:

Further detail on these three approaches follows.

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Applicant-Citizen Agreements
About 15% of citizen-developer conflicts are resolved through a settlement agreements.  The terms of the agreement range from requiring additional plantings for visual buffering to elimination of cut-through traffic to preservation of a 90-acre tract to eliminating 20 lots.  For further detail on the specifics of past agreements see the CEDS study: A Citizens Perspective on the Baltimore County Development Review Process

Generally, an agreement is more likely if you hire an attorney, but there are plenty of examples of good settlements where citizens did not have legal counsel.  For advice on how to negotiate with an applicant see Chapter 37: Negotiate with the Applicant in How To Win Land Development Issues.  For help with the negotiation, including referral to an attorney, contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

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Development Plan Conditions
In recent years, about half of project plans are approved with conditions and it appears that about half of the conditions directly relate to the concerns citizens presented to the Baltimore County Hearing Officer.  Conditions have ranged from reorienting houses to requiring noise mitigation to eliminating up to half of the proposed lots.  For a complete description of conditions see the CEDS study: A Citizens Perspective on the Baltimore County Development Review Process

To add a condition to a development plan you must provide the Baltimore County Hearing Officer with the following:

While it might seem difficult to provide these three critical items, two tools constructed by CEDS make this actually rather easy.  These tools are the Decisions Database and the Law & Policy Database.

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Decisions Database
As part of the study A Citizens Perspective on the Baltimore County Development Review Process, CEDS compiled a database containing all of the development plan decisions issued by Hearing Officer's beginning March 2004.  The database is updated every time a new decision is issued.  The database is structured so CEDS can search for decisions involving issues identical or similar to yours.  We can then provide you with access to these decisions.  By reading each decision you can learn:

Click the following title to see an example of a CEDS Decisions Database analysis: Preventing Cul-De-Sac Streets from Becoming Through Roads.

We can also help you determine how reliable various conditions have been for those projects which have actually broken ground.  You can access the database by contacting CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org

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Law & Policy Database
Occasionally, an issue will arise which has not been addressed in prior development plan hearings.  This database makes it possible to search Baltimore County laws, regulations, or policy documents for applicable requirements.  The results of the search may provide the legal authority the Hearing Officer would need to either add a condition or deny plan approval if there simply is no other option for resolving an excessive impact to your quality of life.  You can access this database by contacting CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org

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DEFEATING A FATALLY FLAWED PROJECT

If you feel a project is so poorly conceived that no set of conditions can reduce adverse effects to a tolerable level, then you may have no choice but to attempt to convince the Baltimore County Hearing Officer to deny development plan approval.  To accomplish this very difficult task, you must provide the Hearing Officer with:

The Decisions Database and the Law & Policy Database will ease the task of providing the three essential items listed above.  The likelihood of success will be higher if you can convince the Baltimore County agency that oversees the applicable law, regulation, or policy to agree that the plan is not in compliance.

Defeating a fatally flawed project is not easy.  This is why we urge you to first exhaustively search for conditions to resolve each of your concerns. 

Defeating a project is not cheap.  While citizens have won a denial of plan approval without an attorney, the chances of success are much better with legal counsel. Additionally, there's a good chance you will need at least one expert witness, possibly more.  For help in identifying expert witnesses and a referral to an attorney, contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

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LAND PRESERVATION OPTIONS

Following is a brief review of the options for preserving a property in a partially or totally undeveloped state.  For further detail on each option and how to conduct the research needed to determine which options are viable see Chapter 16: Open Space Preservation in How To Win Land Development Issues.  For help with land preservation, including researching options with respect to a specific property, contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

Acquisition
In several instances Baltimore County, in conjunction with others, has purchased proposed development sites.  One of the earliest was the 193-acre Merryman property bought in 1989 to preserve Oregon Ridge Park.  In the mid-1990s the Eck Property and other Cromwell Valley parcels were purchased in response to development proposals. 

Purchasing a proposed development site is viewed as an option of last resort since the amount paid per acre is usually quite high.  In the instances where purchases have occurred it has always resulted from a massive citizen campaign to mobilize widespread public support.  For advice on how to mobilize this level of support see Chapter 36: Mobilizing Support For Your Strategy in How To Win Land Development Issues.

Clustering
As the name implies, development is clustered (concentrated) on a relatively small portion of the site while the rest is permanently preserved as open space.  Baltimore County law requires clustering on lands assigned to some of the Resource Conservation zoning districts.  For example, in the RC-4 zone at least 70% of a development site must be preserved.  If development is clustered on the remaining portion then the applicant has option of developing up to twice the number of lots normally allowed.

If you would like to preserve a portion of a potential development site then consider the merits of negotiating an agreement with the owner to cluster building elsewhere on the property.  The owner will likely need something is return such as a payment from you, your neighbors, or others in compensation for whatever value they might lose.  But in some cases this may not be necessary.  For further advice on this topic see Chapter 37: Negotiate with the Applicant in How To Win Land Development Issues

Conservation Easements
Through this mechanism, a property owner agrees not to develop their land in exchange for what can be rather considerable tax savings.  As of 2001, 11,690 acres of land had been preserved in the County through conservation easements.  Detail on this preservation option can be found at the Maryland Environmental Trust's Conservation Easement website.  For assistance in working with a property owner regarding conservation easements, contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

Forest Conservation
While not land preservation per se, the Maryland Forest Conservation Act does require that a portion of most development sites be placed in a permanent forest conservation easement.  The size of the easement area varies depending upon zoning, the extent of existing forest, and other factors.  If you are concerned that a stand of trees might be lost then consider researching if it is likely the forest will be preserved should a development plan be submitted for the property.  For further detail contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

Limited Development Venture
The idea behind this option is that a conservation-minded development company - yes they really exist - figures out the minimum amount of building needed to generate the funds needed to cover site acquisition and development costs.  Frankly, it is rare that this approach works due to the many inherent complexities.  However, if you feel this option might be viable for a property you'd like to preserve, then contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.  We can then poll the companies that specialize in Limited Development Ventures to see if they are interested.

NeighborSpace
Baltimore County NeighborSpace was designed to preserve lands in established communities from development.  Through NeighborSpace a property may be purchased or the owner can grant an easement permanently preserving the property in exchange for substantial tax benefits.  To learn more about this program call 410-887-3480 or click the following: NeighborSpace.

Purchase of Development Rights
Through the Maryland and Baltimore County Agricultural Land Preservation Programs, Rural Legacy, and other programs development rights had been purchased on 22,000 acres of Baltimore County land as of 2001.  The farm owner is paid the difference between the assessed value of a property and the value as farmland.  This difference ranges from $800 to $10,000 per acre. 

Settlement Agreements
There were several instances in recent years when citizens succeeded in preserving part of a proposed development through negotiations with the applicant.  In one case, a 90-acre site was preserved in exchange for citizens withdrawing their opposition to development of an adjoining 182-acre site.  Further detail on  past settlement agreements can be found in the CEDS study: A Citizens Perspective on the Baltimore County Development Review Process.

The likelihood of winning such an agreement will be higher with the assistance of an attorney and other professionals.  For further advice on this topic see Chapter 37: Negotiate with the Applicant in How To Win Land Development Issues.  For help with the negotiation, including referral to an attorney, contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

Zoning
No option has preserved more land in Baltimore County than zoning.  Prior to the adoption of the Baltimore County's Resource Conservation zones in the 1970s, most of our rural land was zoned for one acre lots.  The Resource Conservation zones reduced development density to a range of one house per 1.5 acres to one per 50 acres.  Since the mid-1990s, the Baltimore County Council has further reduced the development intensity on another 90,000 acres through rezoning.

In 2012, Baltimore County will enter into the once every four-years Comprehensive Zoning Map Process.  This could be an extremely important opportunity to ensure that lands you cherish are assigned to zoning districts which will preserve key features.

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PLANNED UNIT DEVELOPMENT

A typical Planned Unit Development (PUD) consists of a relatively large site with several zoning classifications.  The PUD option allows the developer to locate any of the uses permitted on the zones anywhere on the site provided the total number of units doesn't exceed that permitted by the underlying zones.  PUDs offer the potential for developing a property in a way that increases benefits with fewer adverse effects on nearby residents.  However, this potential is not always realized and citizens should very carefully scrutinize PUD proposals.  Unlike other development projects, the PUD review process does not include a hearing before the Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner.  Instead a less formal hearing is held by the Baltimore County Planning Board with a review of the Board's decision by the Zoning Commissioner.  For further detail on PUDs click the following title: Galloway Creek Planned Unit Development: Initial Strategy Analysis Results.  This strategy was instrumental in the recent defeat of this poorly conceived PUD.

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WHEN & HOW TO HIRE AN ATTORNEY

CEDS has a nationwide network of 135 attorneys who specialize in representing citizens in land use, zoning, and environmental cases.  Eight of these attorneys practice in Baltimore County.  For a referral to an attorney who has represented citizens successfully in cases similar to yours contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.  For further advice on this topic see Chapter 40: Legal Action in How To Win Land Development Issues

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COMPREHENSIVE ZONING
MAP PROCESS

The Comprehensive Zoning Map Process (CZMP) is THE BEST opportunity for Baltimore County citizens to preserve their neighborhood from the impact of incompatible growth.  This opportunity comes only once every four years with the next set for 2012.

In early 2012, CEDS will be holding a series of workshops for citizens on how to ensure that property is not rezoned in a way that harms neighborhood quality of life.  To schedule a workshop for your area contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

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FREE PLANS REVIEW

If you just received a copy of a concept plan or development plan and would like help interpreting it, then just drop it in the mail to: CEDS, 21300 Heathcote Road, Freeland, MD  21053.  Include a note letting us know how to contact you and why you are interested in the project.  After doing a brief review we'll give you a call to share our advice on how to resolve the impacts you identified along with any others we see.  There will not be any charge for this service.  For further detail contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

To see a list of the issues we'll evaluate while reviewing the plans click the following text: Project Evaluation Checklist.

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