Appeals of decisions made by the city of Frederick’s Planning Commission will still be heard by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and will not go straight to Circuit Court.

Frederick’s elected officials decided Wednesday to not move forward yet with a change city staff suggested, to send all appeals of Planning Commission decisions straight to a county courtroom. Right now, the appeals of all of the commission’s decisions go to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, other than those related to site plans.

Many residents told the Board of Aldermen in meetings, letters and public comment that they felt the court process was more intimidating and the change would deter people from appealing decisions.

City staff recommended the change for consistency reasons, and because the few appeals related to the commission’s decisions so far have taken a lot of staff time and resources, said Rachel Depo, a city attorney.

Many aldermen said they weren’t ready to decide yet, but Aldermen Kelly Russell and Phil Dacey supported the staff’s recommendation. Russell said the zoning board isn’t trained to hear the cases in the way they do now, which is called an on-the-record review. This requires the board to act like the court, considering only facts and testimony that have already been heard by the commission.

Another option considered was making the hearings de novo reviews rather than on-the-record reviews. De novo reviews require the board to consider the appeal as a fresh case, hearing new testimony and evidence.

The aldermen did not support that change.

But they did decide to move forward with a change to the process for appeals for zoning administrator decisions, to make them de novo reviews by the zoning board rather than on the record reviews.

 

Muddy diamonds

Spring and summer mean both rain and baseball.

After a storm, someone needs to make city fields playable for Little League. But who?

The Frederick American Little League maintains the fields on its own, at the league’s request, said Kristi Winterstein, office manager in the city’s parks and recreation department.

The city’s sports turf manager or parks superintendent makes the call on when to close fields.

Occupied structures aren’t blight

If a building is unsafe, but people live in it, should it still be considered blight?

The members of an advisory committee the mayor appointed a few years ago to study the issue say it should.

But now, as the city looks at its most problematic properties, the legal definition of blight that staff members use says that the building has to be unoccupied.

A few people familiar with the advisory group’s work said last week that, upon hearing that, they were surprised and disappointed.

The city has determined that four buildings are legally blighted and has flagged 23 other properties that have characteristics of blight that will be monitored, said Zack Kershner, the city’s director of public works. Staff members will inspect the flagged properties twice a month, he said.

Steve Cranford, who was on the committee, said the group worked really hard to make sure that blight did not equal vacant and vacant did not equal blight.

The city’s current definition is “really against what we spent a lot of time working on,” he said.

The definition is bare bones compared with what the group recommended, said resident Kathy Griffee, who went to the group meetings.

“I think you need to legislate whatever is needed to plump out the code,” she told the officials.

Kershner said that if there are specific properties that residents want the city to consider as a blighted property, they can contact him or code enforcement to let them know.

Send notes about your city government to Jen Bondeson at jbondeson@newspost.com.

(2) comments

mburns

The board of Zoning Appeals is the proper venue to hear appeals from residents. Not every Regulation fits every single case because the changes that have occurred over the years.

Case in point. I wanted to build an addition, but the current Zoning ordinance required a 5 Foot side yard set back from the property line. My request was denied because I wanted it closer to the property line.

Reason: My house was built in 1895, and the current structure is already less than the 5 ft side yard setback. So my case was that I wanted to continue the current set back to enable the addition. It was approved.

Had I been denied, I could then take my case to circuit court. The problem with this is that the circuit court only looks at the whether the issue is, or is not in compliance with the law. In my case and quite frankly, most would not be in compliance (which is why it's taken to appeals), and it's a wasted effort. The only time is if the zoning administrator made an interpretation of the code and they were in error as a matter of law. But common sense doesn't enter into the court proceeding.

japorciento

Props to the Board of Aldermen, with two HUGE exceptions... and who is it that asked the City Staff to prepare such an anti-citizen proposal? Shall we guess?

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