February 19, 2013
Commissioners in Attendance: Jerry Burroughs, Chairman; Hubert Trego; Mary Losty, W. Marshall Rickert, William Craig, Joy Leoffler; County, Dwight Cromwell, Commissioner Gage Thomas
Others in attendance included: Anne Roane, City Planner; Robert S. Collison, City Attorney;
Stephen Rideout; Ethics Commission, Charles McFadden; Ethics Commission, Gregory Meekins; Ethics Commission, Brian Roche, Chairperson of HPC, William Dennehy, Vice-Chair of HPC, Wendell Foxwell, Board of Zoning Appeals and Dan Brandewie
Tonight's agenda is to hear from the Ethics Commission and to review the information for the bathroom facilities located at Long Wharf.
Stephen Rideout introduced the members of the Ethics Commission. Members include Stephen Rideout, Charles McFadden, Gregory Meekins and alternate Michael Schrader whom was not present at this meeting. (The Ethics Commission hears and decides complaints filed by individuals against an elected or appointed City official or a member of City staff that asserts a violation of the City ethics code. The Commission also provides Advisory Opinions that can be public or private depending on the request made by an individual.)
The Ethics Commission gave the Planning & Zoning Commission some information about conflicts of interest, the filing of financial statements, and filing of complaints. The definitions that are of significant concern to all are the definition of gift, the qualified relative and immediate family.
o Gift: "Is of significant value that the recipient official or employee believes or has reason to believe is designed to impair the impartiality and independence of judgment of the official or employee." Samples could be but limited to meals, ceremonial gifts of insignificant monetary value, gifts of tickets or free admission, cash and etc.
o Qualified Relatives: "Is a spouse, parent, child, a sibling or a spouse of a sibling of a person subject to this ordinance."
o Immediate Family: "Is a spouse and dependent children of a person subject to this ordinance."
One of the main issues that you all have to be concerned about is conflicts of interest. "This exists where the participant in the negotiations of or approval of any negotiated contract of arrangement or the expenditure of City funds could reasonably be expected to result in a conflict between the private interests of the official or employee and the official duties of that person."
This training tonight is to help you to avoid being placed where a conflict of interest arises, you don't make a decision about it, you ignore it or you make a decision that is not the right decision, and then down the road somebody files a complaint against you because you had a conflict of interest you didn't disclose it or you disclosed it and went ahead and made a decision when maybe you shouldn't have done that.
The guidelines that you'll see on these forms are for everyone. A Board member, you, any member of any Board that is subject to the Ethics Law, you may not participate in a matter that comes before you in which you or a qualified relative or certain entities in which you are involved have a financial interest. With regard to Planning and Zoning, you have a qualified relative that's been defined as being a spouse, parent, child or sibling, or the spouse of a sibling. So your brother comes in front of you with a Planning and Zoning issue. What do you have to do? You'll have to recuse yourself because you have a conflict of interest. In the same way, if you have, if you're in a business and your business partner comes before you because he or she has a Planning or Zoning issue, what you have to do in that circumstance is to recuse yourself because there is a conflict of interest. And there can be a conflict of interest or apparent conflict of interest even where there isn't one, someone who is defined by code, being a qualified relative, immediate family or child. It could be say, if you have a planning or zoning issue and it's your next door neighbor that comes before the Commission and is asking for something to happen regarding his property and you can say well, he's not a qualified relative, he's not a spouse or anything and therefore I can make the decision.
Well, even in that circumstance if you think you can reasonably make a decision, before you can do that you'll have to go through a process that we'll talk about here later on, and fill out a form in order to number one, protect yourself and number two, to explain to those people who are at the public hearing that you are deciding the matter on why you are deciding or saying that you can or can't decide the position before you or the request by your next door neighbor, or your neighbor across the street, or someone who you work with, or someone who you go to church with. And it's really up to you in many of these circumstances for you to decide whether or not the conflict of interest or the apparent conflict of interest is of such a nature that you need to fill out the form. We recommend to you is that somebody comes in front of you that you have some kind of a known relationship with, friendship, own a boat together or whatever, you really need to fill out the forms and make a declaration and decide whether or not you should be deciding the particular issue that is in front of the Board. Number three, if for instance you are negotiating employment with somebody else with another company, you're moving from say self-employed and you're going to go work for somebody else, you can't be there deciding matters before your Commission. We're talking about everybody here, all of this is talking about everyone, before your Commission if you're about to go to work for that person or if you're even talking with them about going to work.
Next we will talk about using the prestige of your office. "An official or employee subject to this may not intentionally use the prestige of office or public position for the private gain of the official or employee or a qualified relative or the private gain of another." What that's talking about basically is using your position as Planning and Zoning or HPC to tell somebody well, give me a little cash, give me a little compensation or you know, in order for me to decide something or I can get something through for you, or I can take care of this problem for you simply because I am on Planning and Zoning or I'm a member of HPC, or the Housing Board or whatever the authority is.
Mr. Rickert commented. "As Mr. Rideout indicated you know the neighbor coming before the Planning Commission for a zoning change hearing or something like that. In a small town, if I'm sitting here and a friend of mine shows up and petitioning for something, it's a little late to file a form to get permission or advice from the Ethics Commission. What would one do in that case?"
Mr. Rideout commented "Well, that's a good question. What you should do would be today or tomorrow make a request for an advisory opinion and ask the question what kind of relationship would cause me to at least have concern about whether or not I should care. Should it be a friendship, somebody I see every week in church, or is it somebody I have the boat next to at the harbor and see all summer long and we have drinks together, whatever. Putting some meat on the bones, then we can look at that and talk to Mr. Collison and try to, even though there may not be any law on it we can try to give some guidance so that when it's presented, you could say the Ethics Commission has given an advisory opinion I've read it and it looks based on that advisory opinion that I should recuse myself in this case. Or I can hear the matter in this case. But what you would need to do in that circumstance where that friend comes forward is to still fill out the form and say I see Joe on Tuesday nights to play poker but it's not that close and based on my interpretation of the advisory opinion, I'm going to go ahead and decide this case based on that advisory opinion. If nothing else you're protecting yourself so that if somebody else in the group, here well waits a minute he's, they're good friends and here he goes and decides this case in his favor and the next case it may be someone you don't know and you decide against him. It insulates you, for the most part, from having a complaint filed against you. Because if the complaint's filed you have on record that you made public the fact that you knew me, that we played poker and despite that based on the advisory opinion you think you could go ahead and hear the case. And you filed the forms with us. It goes on your records so when someone's sitting in the crowd that makes a complaint against you we would then have that information that you had made that decision at this particular hearing and then we could then decide whether or not you had gone too far."
Mr. Burroughs questioned Mr. Rideout. "Then one night we had a meeting with the hospital, and I am on one of their Boards and I went to Mr. Collison before the meeting to ask him his opinion about that should I recuse myself and I did. What happens in a case that two or three of us sitting on the Planning and Zoning Board happens to know that same person like Mr. Rickert explained?"
Mr. McFadden explained. "There's an exception in the rules that came passed, you don't have enough to pass, you don't have a majority to pass, exception to pass. It prevents you from having a quorum because it's a unanimous conflict that is an exception to pass."
Mr. Rideout expressed everyone filling out the forms. If a complaint was filed the Ethics Commission would have to look at what the allegations are in the complaint and what you said on your form. They may be able to solve the problem simply by looking at the complaint, looking at your form and saying that it looks like your form covers what the complaints about and it won't go any further. The Ethics Commission can make the decision as to whether or not to allow the complaint to proceed or to allow the person to amend the complaint. We are not saying that you have no liability. We could still find, if their complaint had extensive evidence that addressed a different issue than you rose. You raised and said well, I have this conflict but this is the reason I'm not voting, or I am voting and there are two or three other reasons that you shouldn't have voted that you did and didn't reveal. And if the evidence supported that then we would proceed on to have a hearing about that or to look at it and investigate it. So in filling out the form you've got to fill it out completely as to why the real reasons that you are hearing or not hearing.
If you are involved in a matter where as Planning and Zoning or HPC issue, and you heard the matter and then six months later somebody, when you are off the Commission, somebody comes to you and says will you represent me before City Council about this issue or represent me, help me before the new Planning and Zoning Commission that now exists. The answer that you have to say is no. If I was involved in that matter when I was on Planning and Zoning or HPC or Housing, then somebody coming to you and saying help them with the new group the answer is no you can't do that.
Mr. Rickert asked if there was a time limit on some cases, such as a year or longer. Mr. Rideout answered Mr. Rickert as a Board member; you are forever excluded from coming back in on the other side and representing that person.
Mr. Rideout decided to talk about gifts again and $40.00 is the number. So if it's a little token thing that is worth less than $20.00 it's just a token. Anything over $20.00 is a gift. You can't take gifts; you can't solicit gifts at all. Anything that you receive must be on recorded annually. A lot of things are excluded that you can't receive at all. One is sporting tickets to collegiate or professional games. It's forbidden by the Maryland State Code. The Cambridge Code is mandated by the Maryland Code. And we have to follow the Maryland Code fairly closely as we learned when we put all this together. They didn't give us a lot of variance in what we could do and not do. Pretty close to what the State's doing. We can use the State as a database to go over issues. Most of the issues laid out there as to what is allowed and what is not allowed and I guess gifts from a person related to the Board member by blood, marriage or any other individual who is a member of their household is okay. Anything other than that, you got to look at it.
A person whom, if they are here before you a lot and are giving gifts to you that total $100.00 or more in a year, then they are a lobbyist and you need to let us know that, so we can then talk to those people about registering as lobbyists.
Recusing yourself is physically leaving the room. You could just go in the backroom and fill out the form. For there's a form you have to fill out saying I recuse myself for this reason or in this case. You should have those forms when you meet on a regular basis. Because it's kind of hard to believe that in two years somebody hasn't come before a member on this Committee to ask for something that wasn't related in some way. What can happen is that you vote on it and then there's a conflict and somebody complains about it, the whole thing can be reversed. We can put a cease and desist on it, that's stops the action. So it can get very complicated because you didn't record it. So it's not just something that you can blow off. It can blow up the whole Board. It would be embarrassing and it could be very expensive to the person who's already started down the road doing whatever you approved. So that's what we got on the recuse.
Mr. Rickert commented that this Commission has had several recusals in the last two years. What they were lacking was filling out the forms. And normally people would excuse them and go in the backroom or would sit in the audience. We had a case a few months ago about Group Homes and Ms. Losty and I are both legal guardians to developmentally disabled relatives who, my brother does not live in a group home but may or may not be in a group home. And both of us disclosed it before the public meeting but neither of us felt that was a reason to recuse ourselves from the discussion.
Mr. Rideout commented that if you have any doubt as to whether you should be in or out of something, recuse yourself. But you need to fill out the form. We don't have a record of it, we don't have documents saying I recuse myself on this date for this reason, and it's not on our files. If somebody complains you say well I recused myself, there's no evidence.
Mr. Rideout stated to the Commission that one thing you could do depending on the circumstances, you could say oh, this is a surprise. I didn't realize that this was before us. And move to continue the matter over to the next Planning and Zoning meeting and then ask for advisory opinion. When you go before the Board they say yea or they say nay. The other thing is that what I heard was while you felt that you needed to disclose it you didn't feel that it was such a conflict that it required recusal. And there is the option on that form for you to say this is what may be the apparent conflict, I have a relative that I care for that may or may not be in a group home, however I do not feel that it is a conflict of interest and therefore I choose not to recuse myself. If nothing else it puts on record that you disclosed it. You gave your opinion in public as to why you didn't recuse yourself, then go ahead and vote. It would be better to have gotten the advisory opinion up front but if the decision has to be made and you think it's a judgment call on your part Mr. Collison would be here maybe to talk about it, then do what you feel is right. And then we'll have to deal with it down the road if somebody makes a complaint.
The Ethics Commissioners are requesting an advisory opinion and then just writing down and documenting your recusal. So in advance you're going to try to get the advisory opinion, but anytime you disclose and recuse you're going to report that on a form that they'll be able to compile and maintain. If you do not do that in advance, you do that after the fact. Say I filled this out and it has been filed.
Mr. Meekins' commented on making sure you understand that if you have a conflict of interest you can't just participate in any side discussions, you can't participate in a discussion out on the street with the other board members. Do not participate in any manner if you have a conflict, okay. And you can't sit in the audience and make faces. Which at that many people sit in the audience and they go, and guess what, you think they're against whatever's going on.
One of the words we talk about often has been the appearance and that's something that all of you might want to keep in mind so that as you see everyone sitting here all they need is one little dot and that can trigger problems.
Financial disclosures on the form may include your interest in real properties, corporations or partnerships, business entities doing business in the City or even mutual funds. If you do not know you are, your role as Commission or as a Board member is your primary employment, and it sounds kind of foolish because as an ex-Commissioner we also have to do a financial disclosure form. And hopefully each of you has received that. As Stephen mentioned the day is April 30th for filing all your forms. The Code does require the following to file, Planning and Zoning, the Board of Zoning Appeals, Historical Preservation Commission, the Housing Authority Board, House of Board Review, Municipal Utilities Commission and even the Ethic Commission. Now if there is a new Board member they must file 30 days of taking their position for that previous calendar year. And even Board Commission members turning the position over must file within 60 days of leaving for that calendar year. You need the proceeding and for the portion of current calendar year prior to leaving. The forms should be notarized. And it spells out identifying information for the secondary employment, your name and position, your incumbent Board commission, your phone number and you are to describe briefly your duties and responsibilities and your primary employment. Keep in mind your primary employment being considered for example Mike and Tony; this would be your primary employment. And then you walk those steps and if there're pieces that once you have filled it out and it doesn't impact you, you stop.
You've heard about gifts, having to identify any gifts received again $20.00 or more and if there is a series of gifts totaling $100.00 or more for one person that also has to be included. But do not include gifts received from your spouse, parents, children or qualified relatives as defined in the ordinance. Once it gets complex it's pretty much where it comes to real property holds. In that section, again you list your name and position with the City Commission or Board. It speaks to having an interest in any real property including lease holdings located in Dorchester County during that reporting period. If you say yes, then you must complete the rest of that schedule. If no, you're finished with the financial disclosure form. Again it talks about listing your address, zip code for the property held or rented by you, or partially held by you, and describes the uses for each property including residential, commercial, agriculture, even rental property.
If there are any proposition that may come under your official authority as a City Official, Commission or Board member its needs to be brought to Ethics Commission attention. If the answer's yes, then you spell that out on the form. For some it can be an onerous process, but you just have to think clearly about all your holdings because some people check on you and can be something to question later on.
Similar to this is getting some kind of income and you have someone who has received some income from you or someone comes before you and you need an advisory opinion. Think about what we've talked about tonight not that there's any impropriety at all, but at least you are thinking ahead to provide guidance for stuff earlier.
Mr. McFadden commented as to being a former IRS person and wanted to let everyone at this meeting know, there's a lot of stuff going on out there that would blow your mind. It's not just the top cats, there's lots of stuff going on out there and people doing stuff that you would be very surprised.
Mr. Rideout continued with basically two things, if someone is before you often and if they are giving you gifts then we need to know about it, so that the Ethics Commission can determine whether or not they are a lobbyists and need to register as one. The final thing is about complaints. When a complaint is filed we then have to look at it and make a decision as to whether or not it states of cause of action. Someone who is on the Advisory Board Commission, then depending upon what the complaint is about, we have under our policies and procedures the ability to informally resolve it, to see if we can get some agreement use, alternative to use resolution.
If it's a problem or question where the issues presented are more serious, we have the option or ability to simply issue the complaint and move it into a hearing process to make a decision. All of the complaint process is confidential unless and until there's a final decision made by the Commission that finds that there has been a violation of the ethics law. In that event, there would be a public pronouncement, a written opinion that would be provided to the newspapers to put on the Cities website, that sort of thing. Our whole purpose is to avoid, or to help you all avoid those types of issues not only because you don't want to have a complaint filed in the first place, but on top of that dealing with the complaint, having it interfere with these meetings, your personal life, is just not worth having done. And so if we can help everyone avoid that and by filing the conflict of interest forms by filing the appropriate financial disclosure forms we're going to take care of 99.9% of the problems that you may be facing. We can issue a cease and desist order. We can issue a reprimand. We can recommend the appointing authority to censure, remove or provide another discipline. We can assess for not filing forms on time. We can assess late filing fees. We can ask the Circuit Court to take action as well. Not that we have, or not that we want to, or that we plan to, but those are all part of our authorization under the City Code.
A question was asked to the Ethics Commission from Mr. Burroughs, "How many cases or how many files or forms do you get from each Commission per month?"
Mr. Rideout responded, "These forms we have gotten basically none from Commissions. We've gotten them from City Council, but none at all from Boards or Commissions."
Robert Collison responded to a question asked by Mr. Trego about filing the forms. "What's important on your issue; you're just going to disclose your holding. You don't have to disclose the amount of what you receive from the rent. On the forms for elected officials it's extremely specific and far reaching. You only have to disclose the ownership interest. But then you don't have to disclose what they're paying you in rent if you are renting a property."
Mr. Meekins also commented that if you, are an LLC for instance and own a series of properties and given an advisory opinion, someone asks do I have to disclose my ownership if the LLC owns it? And the answer is yes.
Mr. Rickert asked, "In terms of the financial statements that we file, who has access to those?"
A response from Mr. Rideout was, "They're open to the public, however when someone asks to see it they do it at City Hall. They have to fill out a form identifying them, they have to take it and return it. And when it happens, City staff is to notify you that someone has asked to see it, on every case. We went back and forth about that issue and my feeling was that because we don't know what's happening out there whether or not they're threats that may have been made against you because nobody's said anything. We feel that the disclosure to you that goes if Mr. Smith has asked for it and we put you on notice about it. Again it usually is, almost always is innocent, but Mr. Smith could have been the guy who called last week and threatened you and we want you to know about that."
Mr. Collison commented that the only other things accessible on the website in addition to the forms are the published opinions. So they found there was an advisory opinion that there in excess of and interviewed those. The Commission does have the ability to issue confidential advisory opinions because it's very specific to a particular individual that would violate their privacy.
Mr. Foxwell asked Mr. Robert Collison a question. "If the member of the public, you said somebody's investigating or contracting and wants to see your record. And then that person's notified that somebody wants his information. Suppose that person that's on the board does not want him to see it? Where do you go from there?" Mr. Collison responded, "It's a public record."
The Ethics Commission informed this Commission that the disclosure of your financial information is basically your real estate holdings disclosure and the gift disclosure that has to be accessible to the public so they're not coming to ask your opinion to for it to be seen, they're advising after the fact that Mr. Smith looked at yours. Cambridge has no say in the Ethics Code. We were told we had to have an Ethics Code by the State of Maryland. We were told basically what, was to be in it, so if there is a problem with the Cambridge Ethics Code, contact your state officials.
Mr. Collison stated that there was a new law passed about a year and a half ago that said it had to substantially mirror what they had passed as their sample for you will, for all the jurisdictions. The Ethics Code is a lot stricter to your elected officials. And what you are finding in particularly the Board of Education members are now elected. There were several in Talbot County who elected to resign rather than disclose their true financial means, how much stock they own, how many shares of each. I mean it was significant. That does not apply here. It's just the real estate in Dorchester County. Only your information on real estate interests and the gifting needs to be listed.
Our Ethics Commission wrote the Cambridge Ethics Code. We tried to minimize because of our small town, everybody knows everybody. We tried to eliminate a lot of these kinds of problems and we were told no, you got to do it all.
Closed Presentation and taking a break before the next set of discussions.
The meeting was called to order by Chairman Jerry Burroughs. Full board of members was present. We have two issues tonight. A billboard section of the zoning ordinance needs to be discussion and then the consistency with the Comprehensive Plan with the restroom facility at Long Wharf. We'll start with the billboard section of the zoning ordinance.
Ms. Roane address the Commission as there was a moratorium passed on a section for us to amendment to our existing Code. It began with conversions to billboard signs from static to electronic. And there're all sorts of research done on our end about what different municipalities as far as how they were handling. At our last meeting it was requested that we find out how long they existed. We have four billboard structures in question. Three are owned by Clear Channel and one is out by Walmart that's been converted to digital. There was an agreement created with the City. I have not been able to get a copy of it. It's not in my office. There was some sort of agreement made with the owner of the digital billboard. Mr. Craig stated that the City Council had been there.
Based on the recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Commission, even though our current ordinance does not permit them, nor does the proposed ordinance, the billboards are not permitted. And I was trying to find out when those permits were issued because that came into discussion as far as amortization and how long are you going to allow them to remain non-conforming before they had to be removed. Last week, I got in touch with the State Highway Department. The billboards are on a scenic byway. They're not permitted period. And we as Planning and Zoning consider conversions from static to electronic as new. So I spoke the program manager, Terry Maxwell, who handles the scenic byways. He directed me to where the law was written. While not all three billboards are on the Michener Scenic Byway the one near the Burger King is. The byways corridor of protection goes 680 feet on either side of that center line of the byway. This means that the other two existing static billboards, the one by the gas station and the one that's further down across from Dunkin Donuts, those are within that protective corridor.
Even if the City were to allow these billboards to be converted to electronic, the State Highway Dept. will not issue a permit for that. So we need to prohibit them in our ordinance now, we just had a two year amortization period. They are prohibited in our current zoning ordinance. But we had a two year amortization in the existing code. I can show it to you. It could be extended up to five years through the Board of Zoning Appeals if certain criteria were met. The feeling was that we would have a hard time enforcing it because the period of time for that was not long enough. So as of May 2003, they were non-conforming illegal signs. In current draft ordinance, they are prohibited; billboards are prohibited with a five and up to seven year amortization period. So the whole idea of conversions or the addition of any additional billboards is gone. So looking at distances between billboards is a moot point. Looking at language that prohibits electronic conversions is a moot point. We've covered it.
The scenic byway comes across the Malkus Bridge on Route 50 and turns right on Maryland Avenue, goes back around to the visitor center. If you measure from the center line of Maryland Avenue 680 feet, it includes both of those billboards, all three. And I verified that with the State Highway Dept.
Mr. Rickert asked, "So I think it's important to note that when the Planning Commission and City Council considered conversion, even though it's not in the scenic byway, this law passed a year ago. And the decision the City Council made was more than a year ago. So it's prior to this law, correct?"
Ms. Roane stated, "That was correct. It was in 2008. Whether that for the record, the conversion that exists in Cambridge now happened in 2008. This bill was passed in 2011 and went into effect in October 2011. I was told by both Terry Maxwell, who administers the scenic byway program, as well as one of the permitting officers that it went into effect October 2011."
Mr. Craig commented that all three of those existing static billboards are within that 680 foot offset from the center line of this byway.
Mr. Collison suggested that this Commission should probably move forward with the prohibition of conversions because absent this agreement that the City entered into, they could convert the other side, the back side or the party could terminate the agreement. Even though the agreement that was drafted with the City only allowed one side of it to be converted. But my concern is that I thought all of Route 50 was in the byway, it's not. Ms. Roane answered with, "But, you know what, on that one, because this is the Michener Scenic Byway, the Harriet Tubman Scenic Byway comes up Route 16. So it's within the 680 feet zone."
Mr. Rickert wanted to go back to the discussion on three billboards, the ones on either side of Maryland Avenue and the one by McDonalds between Dunkin Donuts. In your research on how long if there was an ordinance prohibited signs after an amortization period. You said that I believe it's five or seven years in our ordinance. But here's my point, there was a feeling that it was too short a period to defend. You had indicated, we chatted last week that in Montgomery County their time period was ten year? Is a local jurisdiction in Maryland that had an amortization period that was enforceable and given the fact that it was in the mid-90s when these signs were last upgraded so it's not a seven year period it's more like a fifteen or more year period, that maybe we have an opportunity and an obligation to enforce and remove those signs. Under the existing ordinance it has been about seven or eight years ago or more.
Mr. Thomas addressed this Commissions Chairman, Mr. Burroughs, part of the discussion falls, not just the amortization but the present value loss of income, recapturing your investment over the construction of the sign, a valuable sign, it's economic value that it. We might be taking down some future income that we are giving up and that has to be considered.
It was brought to the attention of the Commission that probably we need some more research, but it's possible that we have an enforceable ordinance against the billboards now.
Mr. Cliff Royalty, at 240-777-6739, was the attorney whom worked with Montgomery County and was instrumental in drafting their language. He believes the settlement that was involved with them moving on this issue was that they were allowed to utilize bus shelters for outdoor advertising.
Mr. Craig stated that our current ordinance was passed in 2003, and in that ordinance it has a two year time frame. So those signs that are out there have been non-conforming since 2005, eight years they've been non-conforming. Around 2003 there was a text amendment.
Ms. Roane read to this Commission, "Non-conforming off-premise signs shall be eliminated within two years from the effective date of this chapter. The Board of Zoning Appeals may extend this time period based on a finding that two years is not sufficient time for the sign owner to fully amortize their capital investment in the sign structure. In no case shall the amortization period permitted by the Board of Zoning Appeals exceed three years." The billboards in this discussion were not permitted, they were prohibited. They became, all off-premise signs were not permitted as of 2003."
The Planning and Zoning Commission has decided that more research is necessary and it's possible that part of the enforcement of the existing sign ordinance that we may be able to enforce that language on those three billboards, and under the existing ordinance. There is a process where if the owners of the billboards think it's too short a period then the Board of Zoning Appeals can hear it.
Commenting on this issue Mr. Collison stated that, "Because I was relying on a court case of Montgomery County from 2000, which basically had said that the County still had to pay just compensation where they were prohibiting or the requirement the removal. When I looked up that section and didn't have time to do that before tonight's meeting was to see how these two code sections can be read together. The code that Ms. Roane gave me just came into effect in 2011, so it was not in effect in that court case. But the code section of the court case resides is still in effect and it is Article 25 which is local jurisdictions and the subsection provides that if a local jurisdiction prohibits the outdoor advertising they must provide just compensation. Now I know what the State was telling Ms. Roane that we can require the owners to take down. There's no schedule of fees. They did not mention any schedule of compensation. They left it to the local jurisdiction. So it appeared at first glance without further investigation that we may still need to compensate and whether or not the time period has been sufficient to minimize the exposure to the City. The 2003 code did not prohibit them. We had completed text amendment three or four years ago.
Ms. Roane advised everyone that in doing research other communities have had success in that amortization period between five and seven years.
More research could make a difference on that sunset provision of the billboards being within the scenic byways and those outside. The scenic byways you may be able to have more leeway with a shorter period of time.
Ms. Roane wants to add the language in Unified Code that says no more conversions period, to reinforce that. Then we can move forward to the City Council. This can then satisfy the moratorium and will end that obligation. In the interim Mr. Rickert absolutely sees this as an unbelievable opportunity and we are doing ongoing research to try to see, to do anything in our power to remove the signs.
A point too having the City-wide prohibition of the conversion we would then eliminate the possibility of whomever are in charge of it designate the scenic byways and that was amended and all of a sudden it's not a 680 foot setback it's a 300, who knows what could happen. Then the issue becomes with this Commission fine-tuning the sunset provision and compensation schedules.
Ms. Losty commented on that this was really good research that was brought to the meeting tonight and that we fit within the scenic byway. "So I agree it's a bifurcated issue we solve one thing, there's no conversion, no more discussion. And then if it is 2009 that we did the text amendment or 2008, we are within five years already, or four years and so we just need to see some counties like Montgomery County, what was reasonable. I thought at first when Mr. Rickert was saying we thought it was 2003, we were well within this ten year because mostly that they could extend the text amendment said two and then possibly three for a total of five and we may be very close to that as well."
If this Commission passed the text amendment a few years ago that basically made the billboards illegal, we just haven't enforced it. We said no new ones. So these billboards are legal, non-conforming uses as they exist now. Now we're that provides prohibition of any conversion of existing legal, non-conforming uses to the digital display.
Ms. Losty questioned Mr. Collison. "So what do you do in a situation where we already have the digital sign even though it's on a scenic byway before the 2011 amendment, so what happens to that sign? It was grandfathered in? Ms. Roane answered with, "It was grandfathered in but he would not be able to upgrade the other side or any changes. No conversions, they are simply prohibited."
Ms. Leoffler stated that Ms. Roane said she had spoken with somebody at the State Highway Dept. is it not written that they would consider the conversion of a sign to be like an erection of a new sign. Ms. Roane said that, "It's got to be somewhere, but he couldn't find it."
Mr. Rickert informed everyone the law number #109 prohibits the State Highway Administration from issuing permits for certain outdoor signs. "And if they require a permit for a conversion, a permit to upgrade or whatever, that's your connection. Mr. Dickey Greeves had to get a permit from State Highway to turn his billboard into electronic. The last work session where we talked about signs, it was after our conversations about the Popeye sign. I understood that Mr. Jakubiak put a proposal, in our new sign ordinance, not a moratorium, to set up whatever standards we want to see for setbacks and pedestal signs and all that. And once that was done moving forward from the adoption date of the new ordinance, if a business changes then all those signs that are non-conforming we can take them down. So we're good on the moratorium, we're moving on enforcement and may have an even bigger opportunity than we thought we'd have. And the new ordinance is going to contain the language that will enable us over time to convert the existing signage along Route 50 and elsewhere in the City to have an improved appearance."
Robert Collison wants this Commission to schedule a public hearing at one of the upcoming meetings on the error text, we just discussed with regard to the prohibited conversions.
Chairman Mr. Burroughs asked that we move on to the discussion of the consistency with Comprehensive Plans, what's wrong with the restroom facilities at Long Wharf?
Ms. Roane addressed this Commission with information from the Department of Public Works on the City received funds and the Planning Commission reviewed a temporary sprinkler system structure at the September 18th meeting, minutes are attached. The City is now proposing a new structure to house the sprinkler system that will serve the newly constructed lighthouse located adjacent to the marina at Long Wharf, as well as restrooms for park users. Attached are the plans that were submitted by the architect retained for the design of the building. The structure has been reviewed and recommended along with its location by the Long Wharf Advisory Committee. Planning for this project is being provided by two grants from the Department of Natural Resources.
Article 66B of the Annotated Code of Maryland requires the Planning and Zoning Commission review all projects on local jurisdictions for consistency with local Comprehensive Plans. While the Comprehensive Plan adopted by the City on March 28, 2011 does not reference Long Wharf specifically, it does encourage efforts to provide public access to the entire waterfront in the city as well as utilizing the waterfront to spur economic development and growth. Staff has reviewed this proposal and finds it to be consistent with the adoptive Comprehensive Plans.
• A $100,000 grant has been given to use to cover all aspects of this facility. No additional funds will be asked from the City. We are looking at the land use and it is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. This recommendation does go to City Council, but it also will be reviewed at the Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday.
The Long Wharf Advisory Committee consists of nine members from the local area and they were appointed by the City Council to look at issues regarding Long Wharf, such as where this building will go, signage, that kind of thing.
DPW has been working and meeting on the plans on a regular basis. The students from the University of Maryland study for waterfront development had ten different recommendations. Certainly some of the recommendations were consistent, but those are concept drawings that will hopefully help this waterfront advisory. Long Wharf Advisory Group hopes at this point to look at the plans that the students have done and identify the elements in all those plans that they like. So when the City is able to acquire grant funding through DNR to hire someone to do an overall master plan we'll have the beginnings of the wish list.
Difference tonight with the plans to the ones you last saw are the building is just a little smaller in size, we took out the laundry facilities and visual impact of the building is to try to block those transformer boxes and keep a good line of vision to the lighthouse as you come down High Street. The roofing materials will not be like the lighthouse and more conforming to the materials in the Historic area. So this picture of the bathroom facilities here is the real colors and materials. The other building will house the utilities and fire sprinkler system for the lighthouse.
After this Commissions looks at the recommendation plans, it will go to HPC and then the City Council.
These facilities have been needed for a long time and all year round there are a lot of people at Long Wharf, either fishing, farmers market, marina, walkers, bikers, incoming boats and many others and they are not allowed to you the facilities at the Dockmaster's office. DNR wanted this project to happen and they approached us to do these facilities, the grants are coming from them.
Chairman Mr. Burroughs asked for recommendations from this Commission. And a motion was made by Mr. Craig to give a positive recommendation and that we find that it is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Motion was second by Mr. Trego. All attend has approved the motion.
Mr. Collison wanted to run through the meeting schedule for the next month or so?
Mr. Roane stated that there was no P&Z meeting tomorrow. That would have been a work session to talk about signs and she didn't see the need for it. We do have a meeting on Tuesday, March 5th. And she would like to have that meeting to discuss the zoning ordinance, drafts that have been made so far and the maps. We hope to have all the research information for the billboards at the next meeting. Then another meeting on the March 19th to have one site plan review. We will have that as the public hearing on the billboard language, for prohibition of the conversions. The site plan will be ISG on Cedar Street, Bill Feldman's property.
Mr. Collison wanted to know if this Commission was able to have the public hearing on the text amendment because that's only two weeks from tonight.
Mr. Rickert explained that Mr. Brandewie was giving us updates on the signs that are in the enforcement pipeline now. And at the last meeting Mr. Brandewie and the HPC have indicated that the regulatory deadlines for compliance, they haven't hit them yet. But by around the first of March or thereabouts he would know whether they were going to remove the signs or appeal it or whatever.
We have a moratorium right now on Group Homes and Halfway houses. When we are hearing the new ordinance or reviewing the new ordinance is our proposed Group Home language going to be in there as well?
Most everyone at this meeting express to have the meetings stay at 6 pm and to keep them to 2 hours.
Chairman Mr. Burroughs asked for a motion to adjourn this meeting. The motion was moved by Mr. Cromwell and second by Mr. Craig. All at this meet approved to adjourn.
Note: These minutes were approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on ???????????
Jerry Burroughs, Chairman Date