A proposal that would give Baltimore County residents more say in the approval of new subdivisions, but also would hold out a carrot to developers by speeding the process has been prepared by County Executive Dennis Rasmussen's administration.
It's the result of years of complaints about the workings of the County Review Group. The unique, two-person committee reviews all new subdivision requests in Baltimore County and is required to approve them if they meet the county's technical regulations. Sitting on the committee are one planning official and one public works official.
The CRG has been a source of frustration for residents who come to hearings to protest a proposed new development and its impact on their neighborhoods only to find that they have no say in the technical approval.
Rasmussen said the plan is a working draft, a starting point, designed for wide discussion and suggestions from the community, builders and planners.
"I have a great deal of interest in compatibility, especially in older communities," Rasmussen said.
Under his plan, all developers would be required to hold a community meeting to explain their projects before the CRG meeting. They would also be required, if constructing attached housing such as town houses or apartments, to get a statement from the planning director attesting to their compatibility with older nearby communities.
In situations in which density is being transferred from one zoned portion to another on a single building site, developers would be required to provide 10 percent of their units as affordable housing, or buy density from farmland as a way of preserving agriculture, or pay a development fee to the county. The last two provisions would require separate County Council legislation before they could be done.
In addition, the CRG would be empowered to put restrictions on developments to help preserve surrounding communities, and to decide if waivers to county public works regulations can be issued for a particular development.
Those last two powers would greatly strengthen the committee's ability to change or limit a development. The committee now is bound to approve all projects that meet county specifications. The planning board now considers all development regulation waiver requests. The county zoning commissioner would still have final say over restrictions placed by the CRG, planner Andrea Van Arsdale said.
Developers would also benefit under the new plan, which would halve the time opponents could appeal a CRG decision from 30 to 15 days. It would also require the county Board of Appeals to hold a hearing on any opposition within 45 to 60 days. Currently, appeal hearings often take six months to be scheduled.
An appellant would also be required to state the reason for the appeal, which would help a developer prepare a defense.
The proposal for changing the CRG is to be presented to a committee of planners, builders and citizens considering development rule changes in the county, and to people who worked last year on revising the county's new 10-year master plan. Several additional community leaders will also be involved, Fields said.
Fields said he hopes to get written comments back by Jan. 1 and hopes to have recommendations to the county executive by February.