Baltimore Co. proposes community voice in zoning

October 17, 1990|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Baltimore County officials are proposing sweeping changes in how they approve residential and commercial developments, altering the process so neighboring communities have a greater say.

The changes, outlined in a 30-page plan released yesterday by County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, are aimed at addressing widespread criticism that the county's review process leaves communities little chance for input on what is built on tracts bordering their neighborhoods.

"What's happening is we're moving away from a two-party kind of system, with the issue addressed by the county and the developer, and toward a three-party system with the county, the developer and the community all being involved," said planning director David Fields.

Developers now notify county planners of their intentions at a pre-development conference, then appear before the County Review Group, where the Department of Public Works and Planning Office make sure such issues as sewer capacity, storm water management, traffic and setback requirements are addressed.

Community leaders often have expressed frustration that their arguments about a proposed development's compatibility with an existing neighborhood fell on deaf ears because they were not part of the County Review Group's criteria.

But the proposed regulations would change that. They would require developers to hold a community meeting before the CRG hearing, so that neighbors can review plans and state concerns that will be recorded by county officials and considered by the review group, Mr. Fields said.

The CRG will also be able to issue conditional approvals, so that developers could be restricted from building unless they agree to address concerns raised by the community at the hearing.

The makeup of the CRG panel will be expanded to include a representative from the Department of Environment and Resource Management to review the plans alongside the planning and public works staff members. The CRG meeting also will be chaired by a planner, not by a public works official, Mr. Fields said.

Developers who piece together large parcels by combining bordering tracts that have different zoning densities also will no longer be able transfer zoning densities across parcel lines, Mr. Fields said.

Mr. Rasmussen said the changes, which come after a yearlong review by citizens and county officials, are only being proposed as concepts. "This is really a starting point; it's a working document to start the debate," he said.

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