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  • Writer's pictureCenter for Local Policy Analysis (CLPA)

Legislative Snapshot: Zoning Ordinance on Variances (PGC Council)

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Today, CLPA begins its weekly review of proposed ordinances. We will dedicate every Thursday to highlighting ordinances and their potential impact on the Washington Metropolitan Area residents.

But what exactly is an ordinance?

An ordinance is defined as a law or decree by a municipality or local government; they usually forbid or restrict some activity. Since these laws are hyper-local, technical, and, to be frank, boring, they do not generate any meaningful news coverage unless they generate a significant amount of public interest. The ordinance we are highlighting today is one such ordinance that will most likely fly under the radar of local news outlets but is nonetheless crucial for homeowners and residents of Prince George's County.

CB-016-2021- AN ORDINANCE CONCERNING ZONING - ADMINISTRATION - APPEALS AND VARIANCES-CRITERIA for the purpose of amending the criteria in the Zoning Ordinance for granting zoning appeals involving variances.

This ordinance may sound highly technical, but if you are a homeowner preparing to make a change to your home and need a permit from your local government, you may have heard about variances. Property owners often request a variance when they have a project that does not align with local zoning laws; however, variances may also be used for big projects by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). The variance essentially acts as a waiver to a specific aspect of the zoning law or regulation. The purpose of amending the criteria was to align with recent changes to Maryland law.

The changes to the County's variance approval is relatively short it reads:

A variance may only be granted when the District Council, Zoning Hearing Examiner, Board 3 of Appeals, or the Planning Board as applicable, finds that:

  1. A specific parcel of land is physically unique and unusual in a manner different from the nature of surrounding properties with respect to exceptional narrowness, shallowness, shape, or exceptional topographic conditions;

  2. The particular uniqueness and peculiarity of the specific property causes a zoning provision to impact disproportionately upon that property, such that strict application of the provision will result in peculiar and unusual practical difficulties to the owner of the property;

  3. Such variance is the minimum reasonably necessary to overcome the exceptional physical conditions;

  4. Such variance can be granted without substantial impairment to the intent, purpose and integrity of the general plan or any duly adopted and approved area master plan affecting the subject property; and

  5. Such variance will not be detrimental to the use and enjoyment of adjoining or neighboring properties.

  6. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Section, a variance may not be granted if the practical difficulty results from self-inflicted harm.

The original version of this legislation was criticized by the Prince George's County Board of Appeals, the Chief Zoning Hearing Examiner, and outright opposed by the M-NCPPC. The Planning board felt that the original bill significantly limited the conditions that a variance could be granted. However, after the second revised draft of the bill was presented, the Planning Board now supports its passage. The Committee of the Whole voted to hold the bill for further discussion. This vote means CB-016-2021 will not be officially introduced to the Prince George's County Council but heard again once in the Committee of the Whole later in the month once the Council returns from recess.



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