The Frederick County commissioners, facing a growing backlog of rezoning requests by area developers, suspended hearings on all new rezoning applications this week until a "more comprehensive approach" to land use changes is devised by county planners.
"We were reaching a point where we were spending a lot of time on individual rezoning cases and not much time looking at the overall impact on the county," said county planning director James R. Shaw.
The commission unanimously adopted a resolution last Tuesday directing the county zoning administrator to suspend hearings on all rezoning requests filed after March 19. The suspension will remain in effect until Sept. 30.
In the meantime, the county's planning department was asked to develop a new, comprehensive rezoning process, Shaw said.
The move does not affect rezoning applications that were pending before the commission's action, Shaw said. Applications filed after the deadline will face an almost automatic nine- to 10-month delay.
Reaction to the proposal was mixed this week among local builders. "They generally didn't like suspending the hearings, but generally they felt someone had to take a look at the process," said Shaw.
Robert P. Hilton, president of the Frederick County Builders Association, told reporters Tuesday that the commission was "locking the barn door after the horse was out."
Most of the requests, he said, were in reaction to changes in the county's comprehensive plan. The suspension, he warned, could create an artificial shortage of new homes and force up the price of housing.
Frederick, a fast-growing county about 28 miles northwest of Washington, has been hit by a record number of rezoning applications since it finished revising its comprehensive plan for development last July.
In 1983, developers requested 19 county land-use changes, but last year that number jumped by 73 percent to 33 rezoning requests. In the first 2 1/2 months this year, developers have filed 19 applications to rezone county land, he said.
Thirty-five rezoning requests have been filed since the completion of the comprehensive plan, Shaw said.
"When you get a lot of applications and they're filed all over the county . . . . It's really hard to make a good judgment as to which ones should be adopted and which ones should be turned down," said the planning director.
The surge in requests, which is being attributed to pent-up demand for new housing, has created a backlog that will keep county commissioners busy through most of the summer, officials said.
Under local law, the county planning board must review each request and hold a public hearing before it can make a recommendation to the county commission. County agencies also have up to 60 days to review the request, and the county commission must hold another public hearing before it can take final action.
In all, the process is supposed to take three to four months, but in many cases rezoning applications are taking nine to 10 months to move through the system, Shaw said.
The commission will consider accepting zoning applications on a more periodic basis and will consider holding a hearing on several rezoning requests at once if they affect the same region of the county, according to the resolution.
Currently, developers can file an application for rezoning at any time, and each request must be considered on a case-by-case basis.