By Dave Yensan
On Monday, August 12th, the Aberdeen City Council voted to impose “draconian” standards for future townhouse development. The Planning and Zoning Commission began working on this ordinance in late 2006, but was told that it would not get past the City Council as the three needed votes would not be there.
After the 2007 elections Ms. Grover, Director of Planning and Zoning resurrected the ordinance and pressed it through the system until it finally came to a vote this Monday. During the last session, Mayor Simmons, Council President Hiob and myself, Councilman Yensan, all expressed that they had serious objections to the bill and caused it to be withdrawn. The only current Councilmember who spoke out against this version was Mike Hiob. The Mayor, to his credit, also spoke out against most provisions of the bill, but this had not been made public prior to the meeting on Monday.
The full text of Ordinance NO. 08-2 “Amendment To The Development Code, Chapter 142, Code Of The City Of Aberdeen” is too lengthy to include in this report but should be available on the Aberdeen web site. In all there are 15 code changes, which apply to townhouses only. They are:
1. Designating minimum lot widths and square footage
2. Maximum height
3. Number of dwellings
4. End unit side and front yard requirements
5. Prohibiting accessory buildings in excess of 120 square feet
6. Minimum size for a garage if provided
7. Requirement for off-street parking in front or rear yard
8. Developments to be connected by walking, and biking trails and roads “to the extent possible”
9. A requirement that a minimum of 20% of development property be designated for recreation.
10. Specific landscaping requirements as to size and girth of trees, etc.
11. That the City Department of Planning and Community Development approve the overall landscape plan
12. That “green construction shall be incorporated to the greatest extent feasible in the townhouse construction and development with a focus on energy and efficiency.”
13. Appearance requirements:
– Quality of construction to ensure that the buildings will not look worn
– 85% of the exterior facing the street be of masonry, brick, stone etc.
– Exterior of buildings be compatible with material and colors of nearby buildings.
At the meeting Mr. Hiob objected to 4 of the 15 provisions and Mrs. Young requested that two more be added. Mr. Hiob wanted to change the width requirement from 24’ homes with 28’ end units to all units be a minimum of 24’ wide. (This is an increase from the current 20’ requirement, the widest in the County.)
His second amendment addressed the same issue. His third amendment was to eliminate requirement 12 in its entirety. His fourth amendment was to eliminate the requirement for masonry type veneers on the front of all buildings. Mrs. Young’s first amendment was offered to require masonry construction for the wall between all units and her second amendment would require that the architectural review committee approve all plans.
Mr. Hiob entered his first amendment as a motion and the other four members of the Council pretended to be deaf mutes. Finally, Mr. Kupferman seconded the motion “to allow for discussion. Mr. Hiob explained that he had researched codes for the other two municipalities in Harford County as well as all of them in Cecil County and the two County Codes. He reported that all of the other municipalities and the two Counties required 18’ minimum widths, if any at all. He explained that the 28-foot end unit width would make the units cost prohibitive. He also pointed out that a person could build a 15’ wide house in Aberdeen without any problem.
Ruth Ann Young countered that single-family home standards just simply had not come up yet. She elaborated by telling that she and her husband had visited friends in a 28-foot wide town house and she found it to “be quite lovely.” Mayor Bennett explained that he had objected, some time ago, to the 28-foot requirement.
The vote was 3 to 2 against the amendment with Hiob and Bennett voting in favor.
The second amendment was made and failed for a second. In as much as it further clarified the 28-foot end units it was pretty much a done deal after the first failed.
The third amendment was brought to a motion and seconded by the Mayor. Mr. Hiob explained that there is no standard offered for what constitutes a “green building.” A member of the development community pointed out that the only certified inspector for this type of construction is in Pennsylvania. Mr. Hiob also pointed out that the words “greatest extent possible” are very nebulous. He asked who would determine whether the builder had met the “extent possible.”
I note here that with Aberdeen’s horrible history of abusing the development community and the favoritism and retaliatory efforts toward others, would really make this a dangerous provision.
Mr. Hiob typified this green wording as “feel good” only. Mrs. Young retaliated that she thinks this should be left in and it would “do good.” Her answer lacked any logic or coherent thought at all.
The Council President said, “I think it’s a good thing.” As usual the Council President made absolutely no sense.
The amendment passed 3 to 2 with Elliott and Young voting against removing the nebulous green language.
Mike then introduced the amendment to remove the requirement for expensive masonry fronts. The Mayor seconded the motion. Once again Mr. Hiob provided facts and figures to remove this onerous provision. Mrs. Young said that she thinks this provision “provides nice variety.” She further said, “over time the brick or masonry facades will “prove to be valuable.” All four of her fellow Council members looked very confused by this comment. The amendment failed 3 to 2 with Bennett and Hiob voting in the affirmative.
Councilwoman Young introduced and the Council President seconded amendment 5 which would require that all interior dividing walls be made from masonry material, “for sound deadening and fire control.” Mr. Hiob and Mayor Bennett both pointed out that Harford County recommends sticking with the international code, which is designed for maximum fire safety.
The Mayor stated that the current code requires a wall, which will constrain a fire for 3 hours. Mrs. Young stated that some fires go longer than 3 hours and Mr. Hiob reminded her that all multi-family dwellings have sprinkler systems.
In spite of logic the vote was 3 to 2 to defeat the amendment with both Mrs. Young and Mrs Elliott voting for the amendment. The sixth and final amendment was then introduced by Mrs. Young to require that the City’s architectural review committee review all townhouse developments. With very little discussion other than pointing out that the committee was established for the purpose of reviewing plans for commercial construction in the three overlay districts, the vote was called. The amendment was defeated 3 to 2 with Mrs. Young and Mrs. Elliott voting in favor of the amendment.
Before the introduction of the ordinance, two people rose to speak in opposition to the entire ordinance. I addressed the fact that townhouses are usually “transitional or starter housing” for the young families trying to get a start or for the economically strapped who are trying to get away from subsidized housing. In as much as the ordinance is so restrictive and is certainly going to add to the cost of construction and maintenance, that this bill must be looked at as “racist and elitist.” I also pointed out that it is obviously designed to keep out “those people.” I stated that a vote for the ordinance must be construed as a vote for racism.
Susan Stroud, who represents the Homebuilders Association of Maryland, rose to oppose the ordinance and to tell the Council that this type of ordinance is being turned over by courts across the country and/or leading to law suits for “exclusionary zoning.” Exclusionary zoning is code for discrimination and racist zoning.
From the looks on the faces and actions of the Council it was obvious that their minds were made up and that they certainly did not want to be confused by facts. The vote for the amendment was 3 to 2, with Young, Kupferman, and Elliott voting yes and Bennett and Hiob voting no.
The fact that this ordinance addresses only one type of housing and nothing is being done to restrict any other, most especially single family homes, is going to cost Aberdeen money in legal fees and potential settlement costs. One representative of the development community said that the easy way for the developer to work with this is to build apartments and condos in the R3 districts and steer clear of town homes. Any thoughts of work force housing in Aberdeen will now be abandoned.
Thanks for the report Dave. It’s amazing that any municipality would elect to use such vague language that is open to interpretation. What metric is available to determine “that the buildings will not look worn” or to what extent something is feasible or possible. That’s not how you make effective laws and ordinances. That’s how you get sued.
Once again, Prez Elliott shows that she can be clueless. What a disappointement Ruth Ann has been. She was always on top of things, listened to points, and made intelligent decisions, that’s why she got my vote and I’m sure many others. The 8/25 meeting just solidifies the fact that she hasn’t been bringing anything to the table.
I am blown away by the shear stupidity of both Young and Elliot! The two prattled and rattled on Monday. RWinger is absolutely right. I too thought that Ruth Ann Young would bring an intellectual and honest approach to the City, but it is obvious that she too will fall short of the mark. I am not the least bit surprised by either Elliot or Kupferman. Both of them are narrow minded and biased to the point of ignorance. This City has gotten the government it deserves.
On a positive not; like Dave, I am surprised and impressed by Bennett. I had him pegged for a puppet of Art’s but he does seem to be able to think for himself.
Councilman Mike Hiob says
Great letter Dave. (more accurate and well written than most articles in “The Record”) In additon to your summary, I want the readers of The Dagger to remember that “The Record” wrote an article titled (in large font) “HIOB IS A NON-STARTER”. They were referring to what I told the planning commission when they were going to recommend an almost identical townhouse ordinance to the former Mayor / Council in 2007. I simply told the Planning Commision that they shouldn’t forward that version to us because the votes weren’t there to pass it….therefore it was a “Non-Starter”. I was just trying to give them a “heads up” so that they might make a couple of modifications to their 15 changes! “The Record” made a big deal out of it (like usual), and the document never saw the light of day until recently. Since most of the objectionable changes have been passed, I wonder who the “Non Starter” is now? Could it be……….ABERDEEN!
I believe so. WIthout naming them here and now, I have heard from no less than FOUR different quality builders who have stated that they will NEVER build ANYTHING in Aberdeen ever again. They are sick of the “Draconian” (yes, the same word I used on the dais Monday evening) rules and regulations, as well as the extreme amount of time that it takes to process permits, schedule inspections, unnecessary construction requirements and inability to have their various bonds released in a normal time frame. When the best builders won’t come to Aberdeen, guess which ones will? (so much for “raising the bar”!) In the end, who really is the loser? (I think “Dagger Readers” are wise enough to know)I could go on, but it’s 10:10 pm and I am off to watch the Democratic Convention! (Barack’s Comments!) I had to throw that in so that my Republican friends had something to jump on. (It’s ok, I’m used to it, AND it doesn’t bother me one little bit!) Have a great evening!
On the eve of the first African American to accept the nomination for President of the United States I find this ordinance especially appalling. Its roots are based in the opinions and biases of an all white planning commission and City Council.
I guess we will have to wait for the results of the Presidential Election and how Aberdeen City residents vote or choose not to vote to see if there is any truth to the suspected motive behind this ordinance.
Im seeing the problem as a bill to upscale out a class of people?
Are we calling this racist because it doesnt seem to lend itself to affordible housing to labor class workers? Am I understanding this?
Dave Yensan says
Mike, thanks for your kind words and amplification. Have you now learned not to challenge the decisions of staff or volunteers? If the planning commission says it, the elected officials have no right to challenge it!
Richie, you got it right. This is “exclusionary zoning” and has been found illegal all across the country. It is typical of attempts to keep any type, class or race from living in any selected area.
Appalled, what other motivation can there be? I am sure that any of the people involved will defend their actions as only “trying to improve Aberdeen.” Unfortunately there is always the law of unintended consequences. Also in the too bad category is that they were adequately warned that the consequences could be dire and then refused to listen. This City uses the we “want and we like” far too often. Why not learn from past mistakes and the precedent of other municipalities having tried this?
Deep down, each and every one of the people who crafted this is the thought of keeping out “those people.”
[ron]You stay classist, Aberdeen[/burgundy]
vietnam vet says
I do believe Ruth elliott spoke of not enough’ High end houseing.in aberdeen I suppose it’s becomeing apparent. that some of the brac citizens are disappointed in the Houseing available. we don’t have a macy’s but we do have a walmart.
a train station that’ is nothing short of being a local dump. may be if we were to ask Art helton. he could get some improvement’s made.
New Resident says
I have noticed that apparently Aberdeen is stuck in the past. Most communities have a mix of high end and “affordable” housing. You need minimum wage workers just like you need executives. Why would you create a piece of legislation that leaves so much open to question? Does Aberdeen like litigation? I don’t disagree that development should be regulated, but to simply try to make Aberdeen more “Bel Air like” you disenfranchise an entire class of people and this just isn’t right.
Aberdeen is so far behind the BRAC housing thing I doubt that the small-minded City will ever benefit like the surrounding area will. Well, except for this Art Helton fellow.
When is the election and who is worth my vote?
All i have to say is thank God im not interested in buying a new townhouse cause I would never be able to afford it. Whats worse is My husband is employed by the city.
It’s all academic folks….the only thing in Aberdeen that BRAC is going to affect is the traffic on Rt. 22 in the morning and evening as APG employees drive home to Bel Air and Fallston. These people moving from New Jersey (Ft. Monmouth) are well educated and make good money. I assume some might have children. They take one look at local test scores from Aberdeen schools and you can wave goodbye to them.
Or…as we all know how metropolistic New Jersey is, let’s say they want to live near a mall…or a Barnes and Nobles…..or a StarBucks….Aberdeen (and HdG) ain’t got what the BRAC people are looking for.
So….who cares what the width of a townhome is….it should be what the market demands because in reality, the person buying it is most likely going to be lower middle class income. Sugar coated dreams of upper income, rich, affluent people moving into the area is not going to happen any time soon.
……unless, ofcourse……you mandate wider townhomes and do a little social engineering……just kidding….LOL
We’ve got a mall for them! You know, the Promenade, or as some of us like to call it, The Aberdeen Avenue. Complete with a state-of-the-art cineplex and within walking distance to Ripken Stadium. It will be open any day now…
On a more serious note, it’s unfortunate the some use overall test schools to determine the quality of education one receives in school. I would put Aberdeen alumni up against any other school in the county.
a few points says
Ok, so I get the gist of the issue here, and I agree that it sucks to marginalize a group of people. This was a thinly-veiled attempt at it, although there is some truth to what Brokenbone said. People will travel a bit further to get to nicer homes and school districts, so in some way it makes sense for the town to offer it. However, I need to take issue with some things that were said.
First, Yensan’s comment:
“I addressed the fact that townhouses are usually “transitional or starter housing” for the young families trying to get a start or for the economically strapped who are trying to get away from subsidized housing.”
This is just simply not true, and frankly, offensive in its ignorance. This may have been the case years ago when people could buy a townhouse for under 100K, but those days are long gone.
Since I’m not using my name here, and in the interest of meeting the burden of proof, I’m gong to throw out some numbers I wouldn’t usually give. I recently bought a townhouse in a nice Havre de Grace community for about 220K. My mortgage payments are just about $1700 per month. Call me crazy, but this payment is not indicative of a step above subsidized housing. Nor is it my starter home–this is my second purchase. My neighborhood is not comprised of young families starting out, and neither is it made up of lower class families. Neighbors to my left: a 50-year old postal worker and his wife with two teenage daughters, to the right a single guy in his mid-thirties, beyond him, an older couple in a second marriage with grown children, and beyond him, a married couple in their 40s with 3 kids ranging from 16 to 7. All have been there for between 6 and 10 years; I am the newest neighbor. Starter? No. Transitional? No.
Before I get into income and address the “economically strapped” part of this comment, I also want to add in the second to this notion from Brokenbone: “in reality, the person buying it is most likely going to be lower middle class income.”
Again, this is simply false. I am not ecomically strapped and struggling to stay away from subsidized housing. I am also solidly middle class. I have a Master’s Degree, I am not in a low tax bracket, and I drive a Honda.
Before you can go crying discrimination, you have to understand the reality of today’s housing market. People who make 80K (a respectable amount) are pulling in about $800/wk after taxes. If you use my 10-year old townhouse as a model, then that person would be spending half of their monthly income on housing alone. That’s the reality.
So thank you so much for your concern, and the fact that you want to keep these townhouse prices low for all of us barely scraping by–but you might be looking at the wrong demographic.
A Few Points…I guess I need to amend my previous statement. You’re right, townhomes are now longer a transitional place to live….and can be very pricey.
Homeownership is the key to any family making it financially in this world.
…….on another note, and take no offense….stop supporting the Japanese economy and buy an American car.
a few points says
Touche. Do I get a couple of points back for the fact that my girlfriend works for the AFLCIO? 🙂
vietnam vet says
Art is not considered and aberdeen resident.so there fore he is a know vote.But is a mover & shaker. building johnson family’ pharmacy. Some nice folk’s there. bought out the old colonel’s choice restaurant. at #40 & carol ave. rebuilt a very nice shop setting.
commonly known to be behind the scene’s. in the rumbling’s & stirring’s at city hall.has bought some depressed property in the city’ awaiting further development.
Denu for You 2009!
vietnam vet says
we are getting in Deep water. Rick denu Steve johnson Art helton. are all local name’s who bring Grumbling’s & muttering’s to the city.
TIRED CITIZEN OF ABERDEEN says
LOOKS LIKE THE MIDDLE CLASS AND LOW CLASS ARE GOING TO GET RAN OUT OF ABERDEEN WE WONT BE ABLE TO AFFORD TO LIVE IN THE TOWN WE KEEP PROTECTING IF WE CANT AFFORD HOUSING. I LOVE ABERDEEN I WANT TO STAY IN ABERDEEN BUT CANT FIND A HOUSE TO BUY. THEY WANT YOU TO BUY ONE FOR THE PRICE OF 2 OR 3. NOW WE ARE GETTING MORE THAT I WONT BE ABLE TO AFFORD. THANKS COUNCIL WHAT NEXT
I noticed that Elliotts house won the Aberdeen Beauty award. Maybe her house will set the standard.
vietnam vet says
I was once a part of the appearance & preservation committee my house was chosen for the award. of which in turn allow’s you to vote on the next selected house.
I’am not saying’ her house does not deserve it. but it makes you wonder.
Tired citizen of aberdeen.
Hang in there, houses are still comeing down. can’t get much poorer than I’am just waiting for the next tax increase or water increase. so I can increase my blood pressure medicine.
TIRED CITIZEN OF ABERDEEN says
THANKS VIETNAM VET I HOPE YOUR RIGHT
I thought you liked Rick Denu? Your earlier post lumped him with grumblings and Art Helton????????????????
Longtime Local says
When you refer to other municipalities you neglected to provide which ones and where.
I would like to know how trying to improve Aberdump is exclusionary. There are many homes that are for sale and in various price ranges. I am sure that many people didn’t purchase a brand new home for their first home, I know I bought an older home. What’s wrong with buying an older townhome if you can’t afford to buy the larger ones? There are many smaller ones in Aberdeen, along with the smaller homes available. Many of the smaller homes in Aberdeen were originally built as workforce housing. There are many available.
As far as racist- are you eluding that minorities don’t make enough money to purchase the homes that would be built under the new zoning?
vietnam vet says
BIC there was no intent to ”lump” Rick’ denu with the grumbling’s & going’s on in the city of aberdeen.what is ironic. is the fact you can stilll find art helton, behind the scene’s.
Long time local. there is and artical written in today’s Aegis, friday sep 5, compareing Dave yensen. ( Editorial section) to S fred ex mayor of aberdeen.
True, vet, very true. Not happy with the Heltonites one bit. Rick Denu is his own man. Looking forward to 2009. Hopefully he runs again.
Go Dagger !
PS…I spoke with a councilman from HdG today…one who doesnt do the internet…much less the Dagger…he’s even aware of it…he was asking if many people used it….wow…is he in for a surprise !
Well, there’s some good news and bad news from Aberdeen. The good news is that they have posted more up-to-date meeting minutes on their website. I guess now that they will be broadcast, there is no need to continue to delay and hide them.
The bad news comes from reading the August 25th minutes, which included the votes Councilman Hiob took issue with. I can’t believe that we elected people who actually want to put the following into law:
“Councilwoman Young suggested the addition of the sentence: “All interior party walls shall be constructed of brick or masonry.” This feature would provide an additional sound barrier and fire barrier.”
“Council President Elliott feels that masonry or brick would provide more protection to the occupant in case of fire.”
“Councilman Hiob suggests the removal of the sentences: “Eighty-five
percent of the exterior building materials used on unit walls facing the public
street shall be of clay brick, sandstone, fieldstone, cultured stone, thin brick
or decorative concrete masonry block.” and, “Window and door openings
shall not be included in calculating the 85% building materials requirement.”
Councilman Hiob said this is an unnecessary government mandate and will
result in unnecessary elevated cost. Brick will not last forever and these
requirements are not required anywhere else.
Councilwoman Young stated that these suggestions are appropriate for
variety in the City. They will help deaden sound and look good over time.”
I think it’s wonderful that our council members have found time to go back and achieve their engineering degrees at a later point in their lives so that we can have such expertise in making our city’s laws.
vietnam vet says
Well let’s look on the bright side. they did’nt hire out side help at the cost of the taxpayer. the question is what makes them Qualified to make these decisions
Dave Yensan says
As I implied in the original article: This Council is so out of touch that it makes me sick. On Saturday, speaking with a currently seated Council person, I was told that we are going backwards. I asked how he/she could take the monthly paycheck, knowing how badly they are performing. I suggest that the council is guilty of grand larceny for taking their pay at all.
vietnam vet says
Can you’ believe this? we just had an election.we need to trash the mayor & the council and start all over again
but the people get the government they deserve.
Just dropped in says
Grand Larceny ??????????? Didn’t know it paid that much. Petty Larceny maybe…………
vietnam vet says
Ahhh I have heard that comment before. not much too choose from these day’s bound to get worse before it get’s better. maybe Hollywood should stick to his music & take his council along too.
I bears repeating, Ruth Elliott has no clue (time and time again) and, in my opinion, is on a last hurrah power trip. I am beside myself with Ruth Ann Young. She showed promise, she came off as having some brain cells, a hard charger that knew how to and could obtain facts. She has become a complete let down and offers nothing more than babble. I actually bought into her claim that she would add substance to the council and could bring something to the table. Fred, oh Fred, are you paying attention…………..
vietnam vet says
Well it’s comforting to know ruth is not a lone. she now has ruth ann to keep her company.between the two they might accidently come up with a good idea.
Dave Yensan says
Not very bloody likely, Vet!
I heard today that at least two of the seated council members have taken offense to this entire article and the comments. I’m sure nobody meant to offend them. Gosh, gee, I’m really sorry that their little egos got smashed. I heard tell that the new Council President even got counseled about his participation.
Stamp out free speech!