The impact of real estate development can be felt by a wide range of people, ranging from the next-door neighbor to a community as a whole. Every parcel of land in the city of Baltimore is governed by zoning regulations, which control both what the property can be used for and the siting of anything constructed on the property. Because of the potential impacts of development, it is important for citizens and community organizations to know what the laws provide and how to have an effective voice in the zoning process.
Zoning regulates both the use of land and the physical layout of development on parcels of land. In Baltimore City, zoning maps assign a zoning category to each parcel of land in the city, and the zoning code defines the kinds of uses that are permitted within each category. When the zoning of a particular property allows the type of use and the layout the property owner desires, the property owner has the legal right to proceed with obtaining construction permits and building the project, even if there is neighborhood opposition. However, when the zoning code does not allow the requested use/development, there will be a public hearing in front of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, the body that has the authority to determine whether to allow an exception. Any person or organization may speak at the public hearing, and it is important for those with concerns to speak up at that time.
Follow these general steps to voice your concerns at a Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals hearing. Each situation will bring specific issues and challenges, and this outline may need to be altered to fit the needs of the particular situation. Many of these steps may require an expert’s assistance.
- Determine the zoning of the property.
- Read the zoning code to see whether the proposed use and site layout is permitted.
- Determine whether the property owner is requesting a variance (to adjust the physical attributes of the property) or a conditional use (to allow a special type of use on the property).
- Examine the specific items required by the zoning code for consideration by the zoning board, and determine if the property owner has met those requirements.
- Obtain copies of all information submitted to the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, including drawings and written information.
- Speak with the property owner to understand his or her goals and intentions. Raise your concerns and offer possible solutions.
- If no agreement can be made, attend the public hearing at City Hall. Consult an attorney to gain a thorough understanding of the hearing procedures and requirements. Organize a group of neighbors and community members to speak about the concerns. Be thorough but concise, and follow the procedures outlined by the Board in making your presentation. Whenever possible, bring photos and documentation of your concerns.
- If the project you oppose is approved by the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, you may have recourse by filing an appeal in the Circuit Court. However, certain restrictions apply, and it is important to understand those restrictions at the time of the hearing. Consult an attorney prior to the initial hearing if you believe you might appeal a decision that approves the project over your objections.
Following these steps with the help of experts like the attorneys from Community Law Center will give communities a louder voice in the development process.