Frequently Asked Questions of Planning & Zoning
Q: What does the Department of Planning and Zoning do?
A: The Dorchester County Department of Planning and Zoning is divided into two main divisions: Permitting and Zoning. While there is overlap among the responsibilities of staff, there are issues which pertain solely to permitting or zoning. For an example of overlap, a property owner who wants to build a house must consider both permitting (building, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC permits, fees associated with square footage and use, etc.) and zoning (setbacks, height restrictions, Critical Area law, Forest Conservation Act, etc.) when applying for a permit. In contrast, a subdivision of land is typically under the scrutiny of zoning staff only.
Q: How much does a permit cost?
A: Permits vary in cost depending on a number of factors, most notably the type of permit. Please refer to the chart found here for details.
Q: What is a “911 address”?
A: A 911 (“nine-one-one”) address is the address number which is assigned to properties for the purposes of emergency services.
Q: Why didn’t Planning and Zoning do anything about a violation?
A: Possible violations of the County Code can be referred to the Office of Planning and Zoning but cannot be acted upon unless the complainant provides, at a minimum, their name and address. When the County contacts the potential violator, they have the right to request this information through the Freedom of Information Act. If a violation is not within the jurisdiction of Planning and Zoning (for example, grading, non-tidal wetland, and wildlife violations) it will be referred to the appropriate agency. Not all complaints are found to be actual violations.
Q: What inspections does the County perform?
A: The County performs building, plumbing, and HVAC inspections. Electrical inspections are handled through private agencies. The County recognizes three agencies: Middle Department Inspection Agency (410 749-0641), Maryland Electrical Inspections (410 219-3228), and First State Inspection Agency (800 468-7338). Costs for electrical inspections are charged through these agencies. Call for pricing.
Q: How much notice is required to schedule an inspection?
A: Provided that inspectors are available, as long as the Office of Planning and Zoning is notified of a site visit before 9:00 am, inspections may be performed that day. However, it is always better to give at least 24 hours notice for an inspection.
Q: What do inspections cost?
A: The cost of inspections (excluding electrical) is included in the building permit.
Critical Area and Forestry
Q: What is the Critical Area?
A: The Critical Area is a zone of controlled development in the State of Maryland. It is measured as the first one thousand (1000) feet from tidal waters and tidal wetlands. In the Critical Area, natural resources such as wetlands, forests, tributary streams, and habitat are afforded special protection from disturbance.
Q: What is the one-hundred (100) foot tidewater buffer?
A: The one-hundred (100) foot tidewater buffer is located immediately adjacent to tidal waters and wetlands. There is to be limited development in this portion of land and any construction, alteration of land, removal of vegetation, or other disturbance will require County review, a planting plan approved by the County, and may require additional approval by the local Planning Commission or Board of Appeals.
Q: How does the Critical Area affect my property?
A: Depending on the zoning and Critical Area classification of your property, Critical Area restrictions can vary. The Critical Area Law provides for limits on lot coverage, forest clearing, disturbance to habitat, and the number of lots which may be created as part of a subdivision. The Law also demands certain setbacks from wetlands, tidal waters, and ponds.
Q: What is “property maintenance”?
A: The County Property Maintenance Ordinance purpose is to establish standards for abandoned motor vehicle(s), appliances, furniture, tires and other similar trash or junk, thereby protecting the property values in the county.
Q: What is the County’s “Clean and Lien” program?
A: When the owner or occupant of the land fails to correct a violation after proper required notification. The County may enter onto the land and perform or have performed the necessary removal, maintenance or repairs or take other means necessary to correct the violation(s). The owner or occupant would be billed the cost. This shall become a lien and be collected in the same manner as property taxes.
Q: What can I legally keep on my property?
A: Land shall not be used partially or principally for the storage of junk, rubble ,untagged vehicle(s) or junk vehicle(s), except as provided for in Subsection B or meets the requirements of section 121-6 County Property Maintenance Ordinance.
Q: What is the definition of junk?
A: Any old, scrap, dismantled, inoperable, abandoned or dilapidated boats, machinery, household furniture and appliances, construction equipment and materials, trailers, tanks, drums, tires, pipes, cloth, wire, paper, metals,rags, glass or trash or any other kind of salvage or waste material of any kind; rubbish.
Q: What is a junk vehicle?
A: Any old, scrap, dismantled, inoperable, abandoned or dilapated motor vehicle(s), vehicles or mopeds and parts thereof; and including unregistered trailer, semitrailer, travel trailer, camping trailer, boat trailer or mobile home.
Q: What is rubble?
A: Structural construction waste materials and materials generated by building demolition, including rocks, concrete, asphalt, brick, lumber, pilings, plaster, plaster board, roofing , metal and organic waste material, including root matter, brush, tree limbs, stumps, wood chips, shavings and soil, except ( rocks, concrete and brick used for shore erosion control or recycled building material to be used on site within a one-year period.
Q: What are the Penalties of a violation?
A: Any person or persons found guilty of a violation of any of the provisions of this chapter shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall, upon conviction thereof , be fined not less than $100 nor more than $500 or imprisoned for not exceeding 30 days, or both, in the discretion of the court. To the maximum extent possible under the law, the courts shall order the violation removed or corrected and shall issue such additional order as may be necessary and /or appropriate to safeguard against future violation of this chapter.
Q: How much time do I have to correct a violation?
A: If the owner, tenant or agent of any owner or tenant of any premises or part thereof does not correct the violation after 30 days (unless extended by the Department) or present just cause to the county of why compliance cannot be met, the county may proceed with any required action necessary to correct and or abate the violation.
Q: How will I be notified of a violation?
A: The violation notice may be served upon the owner of land and or occupant by any of the following methods: 1) Regular mail, 2) Personal service by the designated agent of the Department, 3) Service by the Sheriff of Dorchester County or his agent, 4) Posting notice upon the premises.
The County Property Maintenance Ordinance contains much more additional information. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Planning & Zoning at 410-228-3234.
Agricultural Land Preservation
Q: What is MALPF?
A: MALPF is an acronym which stands for the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation. MALPF is the State entity within the Maryland Department of Agriculture that partners with Dorchester County to preserve high-quality farm land.
Q: How do I put my agricultural property under an easement?
A: To place an easement on a property, the property owner must enter into a legally-binding agreement with an organization willing to oversee the easement process and Dorchester County. Groups that oversee easements include MALPF, CREP, and MET.
Q: Do I need a permit for a shed?
A: Yes. Even a pre-fabricated (pre-built) shed requires a permit. The same is true for carports. Sheds smaller than 300 square feet are not subject to the County’s building code, but still require a zoning permit.
Q: Do I need a permit for an above-ground swimming pool?
A: An above-ground pool requires a permit if it has a recirculation pump for filtering the pool water.
Q: How much does a permit cost?
A: Click here for a list of all permit and Planning/Zoning fees.
Q: Do I need a permit for a fence?
A: No permit is required to construct a fence, and the County does not mandate a certain setback from the property lines for a fence. We would strongly caution you to be certain as to where your property lines are located before you begin constructing a fence on the property line.
While no permit is required, the County does regulate the height of fences. Consult with our office as to the height regulations for fences before construction.
Q: Can I file for a permit on-line?
A: No, that service is not available at this time. You can, however, print out our permit pre-application form by clicking here, and bring in the completed form when filing for your permit.
Q: Can I pay my permit fees with a credit or debit card?
A: At this time, the County does not accept any form of electronic payments, only check or cash.
Q: How long is a permit good for?
A: Generally, a permit expires one year from the date of issuance unless construction has started. Start of construction typically occurs once the footer is poured.
Permits for structures in the County’s floodplain areas expire 180 days (6 months) from date of issuance, unless construction has started. A permit can be extended for cause if a written request for an extension is submitted to Planning and Zoning before the permit expires.
Q: Where is your office located and what are your hours?
A: We are located in Room 111 of the County Office Building, 501 Court Lane in Cambridge. Our office is open 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. No permit applications are taken after 4:00 pm.
Q: Does your office issue permits for all of the Towns in Dorchester County?
A: No. Some towns issue their own permits, and others have delegated that to us. For more information on this, click here.
GIS (Geographic Information Systems)
Q: How can I get County GIS data?
A: GIS data is distributed by the Eastern Shore Regional GIS Cooperative (ESRGC) who has a data-sharing agreement with Dorchester County. They can be reached at 410 677-5390 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.