CENTREVILLE — The Queen Anne’s County Board of Commissioners rejected a proposed ordinance change Tuesday evening that would have altered the height and spacing requirements for new buildings cast along major highways and, more specifically, in the Bay Bridge Marina.
The 4-1 decision struck down County Ordinance No. 21-02, an act concerning setbacks for both multifamily and nonresidential buildings in the Urban Commercial Zoning District. The ordinance, filed by attorney Joe Stevens on behalf of Walt Petrie and Tim McGraph, asked to increase the county’s height maximum for new buildings, and reduce the distance between the sides of structures and protected spaces like roads and shores.
The proposed adjustments would have left 15-feet of room on the front and side between new buildings and such spaces, as opposed to the county’s original 25-foot requirement, and asked the maximum height of upcoming developments to go from 45 feet to 55 feet, according to records available through the County Commissioners’ agenda.
Petrie’s plans, according to Stevens, included either standalone apartments or condominiums, as well as commercial apartments, the latter of which are already allowed in conjunction with a country store in the zoning district.
“This is not an ordinance about increasing development potential on the site,” Stevens said during the County Commissioners meeting on June 22. “It’s about flexibility and design, and the type of product Walt could offer.”
“It’s really a question for you guys,” Petrie addressed the board during the June meeting. “Do you want a B-class apartment building, or do you want an A-class apartment building?”
Among the architectural considerations the ordinance would allow for included more spacious balcony areas, taller ceilings, and rooftop HVAC units. Petrie, representing Bay Bridge Marina, LLC, insisted that the alterations to the county’s height regulations were not an attempt to increase the density of the apartment buildings, which he says will contain approximately 100-120 units.
With the profits from those apartments, Petrie announced plans to build a pedestrian bridge that would connect the north bike path to the south side of Kent Island.
Petrie’s ideas were “unanimously supported” by the Queen Anne’s County Planning Commission, according to Stevens, receiving a “favorable recommendation” from the commission following their April 8 meeting.
Stevens nor Petrie were immediately available to discuss the plans for the Marina following the rejection of the ordinance, though the developer made it clear to the board that with or without approval, he will be moving forward with his apartment projects.
The ordinance has been a matter of public controversy in the Kent Island area, with 84 citizens appearing virtually and in person to oppose the proposal three weeks earlier during a public hearing. On Tuesday, only one person, Sharon Nuzback of Stevensville, stood before the board to ask that they vote no on 21-02.
“The entrance of the Eastern Shore should remain trees, not tall buildings,” Nuzback said.
Nuzback, who’s seen her work commute range anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours, cited concerns with both traffic and environmental impacts, though she does not identify herself as a conservationist.
“Where I live, anywhere there’s an empty lot, a new building is going up,” she said during an interview following her statement. “I don’t blame people for wanting to live here. It’s a nice area to live here, but it’s too much.”
The motion to disapprove 21-02 was submitted by Commissioner Jack Wilson, Jr. and seconded by Commissioner Phillip Dumenil. The board voted 4-1 against the ordinance, with Commissioner James Moran voting for the adjustments.
Before voting, Moran mentioned that he would’ve asked to amend the ordinance to reverse the height maximum back to 45 feet.
Following the decision, the commissioners took the time to address the public response surrounding 21-02. They thanked everyone who participated in the process and voiced their opinions, but also stated that their purpose as commissioners is to act in the best interests of the community.
Commissioner Jack Wilson, for instance, referenced “discouraging” Facebook posts he’s been shown suggesting the commissioners accept bribes from developers to accept projects.
“We heard the state’s attorney talk about civility and I think it has to start right there,” Wilson said, referring to the Character Counts! proclamation for State’s Attorney Lance Richardson earlier in the meeting. “We’re not up here to screw anybody in this county or to screw the county over. We’re doing the job that we feel we were elected to do, and we try to do it to our best ability.”
“Not every project is going to be right and not every project is going to be wrong. So, on the surface, we have to look at it from that standpoint.”