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Neighborhoodsby Fern Shen6:08 amJun 13, 20230

Schleifer bill would legalize consent docket deemed illegal by the Zoning Board and its director

Once again, the councilman singles out the BMZA’s Becky Witt, complaining that “one person’s legal opinion is taking over what the entire city’s future looks like”

Above: Councilman Yitzy Schleifer speaks about a bill he introduced requiring the BMZA to establish a consent docket. (CharmTV)

After previously dressing down the executive director of Baltimore’s Zoning Board for correcting a longtime panel practice she identified as illegal, City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer last night introduced a bill that would codify the practice.

Speaking from the floor at the City Council, Schleifer offered brief remarks about Bill 23-0402 establishing a “consent agenda” for the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA).

As was the case a week earlier in his withering, at times deeply personal questioning of Rebecca Witt, the board’s top staffer and legal adviser, Schleifer once again singled Witt out as a kind of troublemaker.

“It’s quite concerning that one person’s legal opinion is taking over what the entire city’s future looks like,” said Schleifer, who co-sponsored the bill with Councilman Eric Costello.

Defending herself at the June 5 Council hearing, Witt repeatedly told Schleifer that it was the decision of the board to eliminate its “consent docket.”

The docket had allowed the BMZA to approve variance requests en masse in a single vote without discussion as long as no member of the public objected. Requests were approved whether they met the legal requirements of the code or not.

Witt had said the process was a violation of due process, the separation of municipal powers and, essentially, the rule of law.

Causing Constituent Harm

Addressing his Council colleagues last night, Schleifer appeared to be arguing the matter was not so clear, saying “There seems to be a debate amongst the law department, the administration and many lawyers.”

He described the constituents whose requests were apparently denied under the policy the BMZA instituted in January to consider and apply the law to each request and vote on it individually.

• Councilman blasts Zoning Board after it ends blanket approvals of variances (6/6/23)

On display at a Baltimore City Council hearing: Arrogance and overreaching [OP-ED] (6/12/23)

One resident whose request was denied has ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Schleifer said.

Another “is no longer able to live alone, and they’d like to have their parent move in with them,” he noted.

“And then you have constituents who have reached out for things such as just simply adding an addition onto their home.”

The 5th District representative and some other Council members say they have received multiple complaints from constituents about the new policy.

Automatic Approvals

Schleifer-Costello bill would require an applicant, typically seeking a side- or rear-yard setback or other variance, to post a notice on the property.

The BMZA is then required to create a consent agenda for every application or appeal for which there is no community opposition.

Every consent agenda item shall be reviewed “for compliance and conformance” with technical requirements.

And every consent agenda item that so complies “shall be approved by the BMZA without any independent scrutiny of the Board of the technical legal review requirements that would otherwise typically apply to the requisite application, appeal or other matter, if it were to be contested.”

“It is the express intent that every uncontested application filed with the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals shall be approved by the Board”  – Schleifer bill.

In short, “it is the express intent of this subsection that every uncontested application, appeal or other matter that is properly filed with the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals shall be approved by the Board,” the bill says.

It was assigned to the Rules and Legislative Oversight Committee, which Schleifer chairs, by City Council President Nick Mosby.

So far, the Law Department and other city agencies have not weighed in on the measure.

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