Anne Arundel County Council to hear testimony on medical marijuana, land use bills
April 16--It could be a long night at Monday's County Council meeting with several bills, including a handful of land use matters and a ban on variances for medical marijuana outlets, up for hearings.
Bill 24-18 would prevent any potential medical marijuana facilities from getting any variances to the tough limitations set in the law authorizing them.
Administrative hearings have allowed variances on four dispensaries in the county. But County Executive Schuh, who has fought to exclude and limit the medical marijuana industry from the county, replaced former Administrative Hearing Officer Doug Hollmann and installed Annapolis attorney Jonathan Hodgson.
Hodgson rejected a dispensary variance application in his first case on the issue.
The General Assembly allowed for two dispensaries per senatorial district. Applicants are assigned a district and they have to find a site within those boundaries.
In Anne Arundel County, a location in the north half of the county makes it much harder to find a location, which was the spirit of the law passed by Schuh and the council.
"There is part of a larger conversation -- how difficult is it to open a licensed dispensary in Anne Arundel County," said Councilman Chris Trumbauer.
Schuh initially wanted to nix any outlets in the county but he and the council hashed out a deal.
"We ended up with a compromise I hoped would be a good middle ground, but the industry has not had much luck gaining a foothold in the county," Trumbauer said.
He noted there is a desire to get a hold on the variances after one dispensary had seven, and council members have signed on to the bill. But issues remain.
The industry claims the restrictive zoning rules make it nearly impossible.
" The council has heard back from owners who say the regulations are so limiting they can't find places to open," Councilman Jerry Walker said.
Part of the problem is the county has yet to produce a map that shows where one could be opened, with all the distance restrictions from schools, residences, and zoning limits.
"They say we'll have a map in a couple weeks," Walker said.
The council is hesitant to vote again until they have seen that map.
A handful of land use bills are also on the Monday agenda.
One would halt any further zoning changes via the administrative process until the next General Development Plan is submitted to the Planning Advisory Board or January 2020, whichever comes first.
The notion is to allow the General Development Plan process decide the future course of land use for the next several years before any more zoning changes are approved.
Another would get rid of the Small Area Plans and other instruments attached to the current GDP in favor of another round of small area planning.
But that would not come with the current round of planning for the GDP due at the end of 2019, instead it would be put off until the next round of deliberations for the 2027 planning outline.
"My concern is putting it in the code that SAP must be adopted, but not for this plan," Walker said. "If we support the SAP part of the planning process but we don't we have time before the GDP is due."
The legislation calls for a Small Area Planning process to proceed with at least seven planning areas and at least nine representatives from each area on the panel to hash out their areas needs.
"It's tricky and a bit in flux right now," Trumbauer said. "The question will be who gets to be on that committee and do we want one branch of government to appoint the entire thing."
He thinks there could be room to compromise allowing the council to have a say in who joins the panels deciding the planning future of the county's communities.
The county executive appointed members of the previous SAP committees. There were 13 planning committees, mostly because areas of the county have differing needs. Like in South County, the western upland area has a rural agricultural focus while Deale and Shady Side, and Edgewater/Mayo have mostly residential and marine industry, waterfront issues.