From Friends of Harford:
A Special Exception (SE) request, Case Number 5799, has been filed by Grandview Christian Church and Fallston Country Pre-K to permit a pre-kindergarden school in the church. The church property is zoned AG (Agricultural).
Public Hearing Date/Time: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 6:30pm
Hearing Location: County Council Chambers (first floor), 212 S. Bond Street, Bel Air.
Application to Board of Appeals: http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/council/zoningapplications/5799.pdf
If you wish to testify we recommend notifying the Peoples Counsel ahead of time (although you can arrive early and notify him just prior to the actual hearing).
The latest schedule for Special Exceptions (and other cases before the Zoning Hearing Examiner) is at http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/council/zoning.cfm
Special Exception requests are somewhat uncommon, so below is a short explanation of how they work and how you can influence the outcome. For more details check out the Friends of Harford website.
Public Participation in a Special Exception hearing
Special Exceptions are those uses identified in the Zoning Code’s PERMITTED USE TABLES as “SE”. A property owner can ask to be granted a Special Exception and it can be approved as long as it doesn’t harm the community or cause adverse affects.
A Special Exception (SE) request includes a proposed Site Plan, a description of what’s being requested, and other information. A public hearing is held to give the affected community a chance to voice their concerns about the request and its potential impacts to properties and uses nearby. Then the Hearing Examiner will decide to:
– disapprove the request
– approve the request exactly as requested
– approve the request but require specific changes be made and/or certain conditions be met in order to address the public’s concerns
The process begins when a property owner/developer files a SE request with the County. It is reviewed by the Peoples Counsel Citizens Advisory Board, a group of citizens appointed by County Council members. Either the Board can recommend that Peoples Counsel take the case, or individual citizens can ask the Peoples Counsel to take a case. The Peoples Counsel, a lawyer hired part-time by the County specifically to represent the interests of the public, decides which cases he/she will accept. The Peoples Counsel may be contacted through Ms. Dottie Smith, Zoning Hearing Assistant, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-638-3349.
The SE hearing is handled like a court case, complete with a judge (the Hearing Examiner), the Peoples Counsel (representing the public), the opposing lawyer (supporting the SE request), a court recorder (prepares word-for-word transcripts), sworn testimony from witnesses and experts, cross examinations, etc. Although this may sound intimidating, you do have a real opportunity to impact whether or not that Special Exception is granted, changed, or denied — so talk to the Peoples Counsel, go to the public hearing and speak up.
Only certain concerns can cause the Hearing Examiner to disapprove an SE request, and these are described in Zoning Code section 267-9(I). This section also lists what kinds of conditions or limitations can be imposed if the Hearing Examiner believes them to be necessary to protect the public.
If either party is dissatisfied with the decision of the Hearing Examiner, they can appeal it to the County Council (acting as the Zoning Board of Appeals). Otherwise the Hearing Examiner’s decision stands. The next step would be a formal appeal through the Maryland court system, but be forewarned: this is a very expensive, time-consuming process with severely limiting rules on legal “standing” that can stop an appeal before it even gets to court.