On May 6, 2014, the Harford County Council introduced a bill which would significantly change the zoning approval process in Harford County. Bill N0. 14-21 proposes to allow appeals from Zoning Hearing Examiner’s decisions directly to the Circuit Court for Harford County. Under the current code, the Zoning Hearing Examiner conducts evidentiary hearings in cases involving rezoning, special exceptions and variances. The Hearing Examiner’s decision becomes final if no request for final argument is made. If a request for final argument is made, the case goes before the Harford County Board of Appeals which consists of the members of the Harford County Council. Under Bill N0. 14-21, these appeals would now go directly to the Circuit Court for Harford County.
Many counties in Maryland currently have a separate Board of Appeals which consists of appointed county citizens and not elected officials. Harford County has been one of the few counties in Maryland to have their County Council serve in the role of the Board of Appeals. Because of their dual capacity, Council Members have often been criticized for both the perception that they are subject to political influence over zoning decisions and that they are inaccessible to citizens because they are bound to only consider evidence presented in a zoning hearing in deciding cases that come before them as the Board of Appeals. The present legislation could reduce or eliminate those concerns. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for June 3, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.