Frequently Asked Questions
"What is my property zoned? "
This is by far the most frequently asked question and the staff of the Office of Zoning Administration will help you determine the zoning for your property. Please assist us in determining the zoning designation of your property by providing us with the street address and the tax map, grid and parcel number for the property which can be located on your most recent tax statement. You can also access this information on your property or any other in Carroll County by using the State Department of Assessments and Taxation Real Property Search at http://www.dat.statse.md.us.
"What are the uses allowed on my property? "
Our second most popular question is about the uses allowed in each zoning district, and are outlined in Chapter 158 of the County Code. While the many uses are too numerous to list here, you may either stop by our office to review the lists of uses or view them on-line at the Code of Public Local Laws. Principal permitted uses are those allowed as a matter by right on a property. Conditional uses are those which may be available to a property owner after a public hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals. Accessory uses are those which are customarily incidental and secondary to the principal use on a property; for example, a garage or a residence.
"I don't see the use I want on my property listed. "
It is impossible to list every imaginable land use in the County Code. It is the job of the Office of Zoning Administration to interpret the zoning ordinance. You should contact OZA to discuss your proposed use. In many instances, if a use is not listed within a zoning district, it is inferred that that use is not allowed within that district; particularly if that use is listed in another category. In some rare cases, the Board of Zoning Appeals determines if a use is appropriate within a zoning district.
"What are the zoning categories in Carroll County? "
The zoning categories in Carroll County are:
- Conservation: Generally located in rural areas. Residential development is allowed at one lot per three acres.
- Agricultural: Also in rural areas. Development density is approximately one lot per twenty acres plus the "remaining parcel" which is the original homestead.
- Business Neighborhood - Retail
- Business General
- Industrial Restricted
- Industrial General
- Employment Campus
- Heritage District
- Historic District Overlay
- R-40,000: allowing one home per acre
- R-20,000: allowing one home per 1/2 acre lot
- R-10,000: allowing one home per 1/4 acre
- R-7,500: One home per 7,500 square feet. This district enables the use of multifamily structures.
- Mobile Home Park District
- Mineral Resource Overlay: for those areas with mineral mining activities
"Does Carroll County regulate the zoning in the municipalities? "
No, each of the eight municipalities in Carroll County has its own zoning regulations. You should contact the city or town office for information on properties that are in the municipal boundaries.
"What are "setbacks"? "
Setbacks are the distances required between structures or uses and property lines. These distances vary within each zoning district. Variances can be made to some setbacks by appeal to the Zoning Administrator or the Board of Zoning Appeals.
"How do I apply for a zoning variance for my property? "
Just contact our office by telephone or email for the appropriate forms. You can download the forms, or they can be mailed or faxed to you. The forms must be completed in detail so that all of the legal requirements are met to schedule variance hearings. Variance cases are generally heard on the first Wednesday of each month in room 109 of the County Office Building. While variance cases before the Zoning Administrator are informal hearings, variances cannot automatically be granted. Each applicant must be able to substantiate that their property is unique or different, and that there would be a practical hardship which is not self-imposed if the variance is not granted.
"Where do I get the information I need about adjoining property owners that must be notified of my request for a variance? "
This information is available from the State Office of Assessments & Taxation at 410-857-0600.
"What is a "utility easement"? "
Utility easements are encountered on many properties in the County which have been created by the subdivision process. Generally these easements are there to accommodate the placement of water, sewer, gas or communication lines, or to allow for the free flow of storm water across properties so it is properly managed. No permanent structure is allowed in any utility easement because of the potential that storm water could be misdirected to affect another person's property or discombobulate the overall storm water plan for the area. The County also maintains the legal right to enter a utility easement area in case any underground utility requires service.
"I want to operate a business from my home. What permits do I need? "
First, you should consult with the Health Department and/or other agencies, depending on the type and size operation you intend. If you want to operate a simple office from the home as many individuals do these days, a zoning certificate is required and is permitted after an Administrative hearing in any residence, so long as there is no outside appearance of an office or business operating there and no additional traffic is generated. Simple home occupations such as craft and art operations are also considered permissible as Accessory uses to the Principal uses, but only where home offices are listed as an Accessory use and the definition of home occupation is met (please refer to the definition of "home occupation" in § 158.002 of the County Code). OZA will require more detail on other types of business operations to determine if they are permitted in specific zoning categories, so it is best to contact the office at 410-386-2980. Bear in mind that there are distinctly different residential and business zoning categories so there is legislative intent to keep the two uses separate.
" I intend to start a new business. Where do I find information on where I can locate it? What permits do I need? "
OZA can tell you which zoning districts are appropriate for the type of business you are starting or re-locating and we can give you information regarding where each of these zoning districts are in the County. In addition, zoning maps are for sale in our office. You should also contact the offices of the 8 Carroll municipalities to determine the opportunities in each of those towns. The Carroll County Department of Economic Development maintains a list of available business properties for sale or lease. Contact the Bureau of Permits & Inspections for information on building permits for new structures or "Change of Use" permits if you are moving into an existing storefront or office space.
"What are the regulations on fences and walls? "
Fences and walls do not need to meet the setback and/or minimum building line requirements; however, you should remember that if you place a fence or wall in a utility easement and it has to be removed, it must be done so at the owner's expense. Additionally, § 158.042 of the County Code stipulates that fences, walls, and plantings on corner lots cannot interfere with traffic visibility and shall not be erected within 20 feet of the intersection of the road right-of-way. We urge you to contact Miss Utility at 1-800-257-7777 before setting any footers or posts to assure you that you do not strike an underground utility line.
"What are the County sign regulations? "
The numerous requirements for business signs are contained in Chapter 158.110 of the Zoning Code; they vary for on-premises and off-premises businesses. Very few signs do not require zoning certificates, so it is best to check with OZA for your specific needs.
"What is the most frequent complaint filed with OZA? "
There are actually two complaints that we receive quite regularly, and often both violations are alleged about the same property: too many unlicensed vehicles and junkyard like conditions on a property. While OZA continues to take complaints, we urge citizens to follow the Golden Rule and try to resolve differences with their neighbors on a personal basis; using government intervention only as a course of last resorts. OZA is a complaint based operation, meaning that largely the OZA enforcement staff only act when a complaint is filed rather than seek out violations.
"What is OZA's process for handling violations? "
Complaints are taken by phone, e-mail, or in person at the OZA office. An investigation number is created and an inspector assigned to investigate the complaint generally within 48 hours of receipt. If the complaint proves to be a violation of the zoning ordinance, the inspector may discuss it on-site with the property owner. If the complaint is not resolved at that initial point of contact, a letter is then sent to the property owner giving them ten days to contact the OZA to discuss how and when the violation will be resolved. If the property owner is uncooperative, a formal Notice of Violation is issued, giving the owner 30 days to bring the property into compliance or appeal the Notice of Violation to the Board of Zoning Appeals. If the violation is neither appealed nor abated within the 30 days, the file is turned over to the County Attorney for legal action. The Court may impose fines and issue orders directing the property owner or the County to abate the violation. In matters where the County is authorized to abate the violation, competitive bids are sought to perform the cleanup, removal or other action and, as of October 1, 2004, the property owner will be assessed the costs by adding the costs to the annual property tax bill.
"How can I get my property re-zoned? "
There are two methods available to a property owner seeking a rezoning. The first is called a "piecemeal" rezoning where only a single property is considered. The Board of County Commissioners makes the determination on piecemeal rezonings; however applicants must be able to satisfactorily prove that there has been a substantial change to the neighborhood in which the property is located in, or that a mistake was made in the initial zoning of the property. The rezoning technique most frequently used for rezonings is through the County Comprehensive Plan Review process which occurs every six years. Property owners seeking a rezoning through the Comprehensive Plan process should contact the Department of Planning at 410-386-5145.
"I want to subdivide my property. Where do I start? "
You must first determine the potential for subdividing your property. Lot yield, if any, is determined by the property's zoning classification. In many instances, parcels which were created by a previous subdivision plan may not be further subdivided regardless of the lot size. The OZA can help you determine your zoning category and give you the basics on lot yield in each category. Please contact the Bureau of Development Review (410-386-2722) for further information on subdivision.
"Can you provide me with a plat of my property? "
The OZA does not maintain copies of record plats. In some instances, the Bureau of Development Review may be able to provide a copy of a plat, but generally plats are only obtainable from the Office of Land Records or the Maryland State Archives. Many Carroll County subdivision plats are available over the MD Archives web site at www.plats.net, will need to use the user name "plato" and the password "plato#" to access the plats.
"Does zoning address issues like flood plains and streams? "
No, zoning is strictly a matter of land use. However, there are several county regulations governing the use of environmentally sensitive areas. For these regulations you should research the Bureau of Resource Management pages on this web site for Resource Management or contact them by telephone at 410-386-2506.
"How many dogs, cats, llamas, etc. can I keep on my property? "
Much of Carroll County is zoned "Agricultural" and the maintenance of herds of farm animals in these areas is a priority. Carroll County has a Right-to-Farm law, Chapter 150.55 of the County Code, which deals with conflicts between traditional agricultural uses and the new residential areas. However, large animals such as horses and cattle are only permitted on parcels that are a minimum of three acres in size in certain zones.
The number of other ruminant animals such as Alpacas and sheep which can be permitted on a parcel three acres or larger is determined on a case by case basis. Kennels and the keeping of domestic pets at residences are addressed separately in the Zoning Ordinance.
- Commercial kennels are defined in § 158.002 as a property which is used for keeping, boarding, breeding, training or sale of more than three (3) dogs or other canines that are more than one (1) year old. Commercial kennels are allowed as conditional uses requiring Board of Zoning Appeals approval in the Conservation, Agricultural and Business districts.
- Horses, Alpacas and ruminants. As agriculture is a principal permitted use in all residential zoning districts and the Conservation and Agriculture districts, sheds or barns are permitted subject to the setbacks of each zone.
- Pets. The keeping of pets is considered to be an accessory use to a dwelling; however, it is important to note that the number of pets and type are subject to the size of the residential lot. Whereas keeping a goat, some rabbits and a large dog are acceptable on a one-acre lot, that number would be considered inappropriate in an area of small lots and townhouses. This determination is left to the Office of Zoning Administration. Generally, no more than three adult dogs are allowed as an accessory use to a residence.
"Where are Mobile Homes Permitted? "
While there are numerous individual mobile homes and mobile home parks in Carroll County, most of these parks or individual units are non-conforming, meaning they pre-date the establishment of zoning in the County. Although there is a provision in the County Code (§ 158.076 and § 158.150) for mobile homes and parks, there currently are no parcels designated for this use in the County.
"What are the penalties for zoning violations? Do zoning cases ever wind up in court? "
If OZA issues a Civil Citation for a zoning violation, the penalties are $50.00 for the first offense, $100.00 for the second offense, $200.00 for the third offense and $500 for each subsequent offense. It is important to note that a fine may be imposed for each day a violation exists, and that each day a violation exists is a separate offense. The failure to correct a violation after expiration of the time period for correction stated in a citation is a separate offense. Some zoning cases are resolved in the courts when OZA cannot achieve voluntary compliance, or when OZA actions are first affirmed by the Board of Zoning Appeals, but later appealed to the courts.