Baltimore City subdivisions

The subdivision of land in Maryland is governed at the local (county) level. There are state regulations dictating some aspects of land development--storm water management being the most prominent--but for the most part, local government regulates the process and approves or disapproves the proposal.

In Baltimore City, if a contemplated land transfer does not include the entirety of the tax lot, one must prepare and get approval of a new subdivision plat defining the lot to be conveyed. There are no exceptions. The litmus test, oddly, is not whether the lot exists in that shape of record, but whether the lot exists in that shape on what are called the City "block plats" (the City equivalent to county tax maps). If so, no subdivision is triggered, even if, of record, no such lot exists.* Changing property lines by even an inch triggers the requirement.

Many subdivisions are triggered in anticipation of new construction and similar development. This is what normally comes to mind when speaking of subdivisions. However, not all subdivisions anticipate development. Some are merely for separating land from a larger tract in order to convey it to others.

The subdivision process begins with a boundary survey. After all, one needs to know what one starts with before sensible changes can be proposed. After the survey, new division lines can be laid out depending on the nature of the proposed improvement. Sometimes those new lines (or the proposed uses of the property) will violate the zoning regulations affecting the area. In those cases a zoning appeal must be filed with the Board for Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA) either prior to or at the same time as the subdivision submission to the city. The zoning appeal can move on a parallel track with the subdivision review.

The Approval Process

The City requires a number of plans to be submitted for its review of a proposed subdivision: an Existing Conditions Plat, Preliminary Development Plan and Preliminary Subdivision Plat. The review and approval process is comprised of two or more parts, depending on whether the City Site Plan Review Committee requests changes or more information in order to understand and comment on the design. Other plans might be required, depending on the nature of the site and on the proposed improvements. A Forest Conservation Plan and a Landscape Plan might be required. If new construction is proposed, building elevations probably will be required. (A building elevation, in this context, is a drawing depicting the face of the building.)

Part of Subdivision Plat
(Click to enlarge)

After preliminary review the City will comment on the proposal and may either suggest or require changes to it prior to scheduling the subdivision for Planning Commission approval. Sometimes there is a back and forth process between us and the City over those comments, but generally things are worked out to the satisfaction of all concerned, and the final Development Plan and Subdivision Plat are submitted for approval. The Planning Commission holds a hearing on the subdivision and either votes to approve or disapprove the matter. If approved (and they generally are) we record the Subdivision Plat among the Land Records at the courthouse. The Development Plan is only filed among the records of the Planning Department, in the files of the applicant and in our files.

If construction is contemplated, construction documents must be submitted to the City after subdivision approval. Permitting is a separate phase and must be completed in order to get underway onsite.

*And there are more instances of that than you might think. Apparently in the '30s (we think) the City created tax lots conforming to settled occupation at the time, irrespective of the title state. So, many properties that had multiple buildings on them were cut up into individual tax lots, and have remained as such to this day. When one of those lots is slated to be conveyed from the collection, we merely have to draft a legal description conforming to the block plat to be used in the conveyance. No subdivision is necessary.

Copyright © 2015 S.J. Martenet & Co., Inc.