2020 Bill Jeopardizes County Planning, Ecker Aide Says

February 13, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

A zoning proposal in the General Assembly would stymie county projects already in the works, a county official says.

Although the "most troubling and controversial" parts of a statewide zoning bill have been eliminated, the county will suffer if the bill becomes law, saidformer county planning director Uri P. Avin.

Avin is now an aide to County Executive Charles I. Ecker, advising him about the state's so-called "2020 land-use bill."

He wrote his objections to Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, R-14B, chairman of the county's Annapolis delegation, in a nine-page memorandum last week. He said the bill would force the county to repeat planning efforts over the next four years.

Last July, the county adopted a new GeneralPlan that took four years from start to County Council approval. Thecouncil planned to work on an adequate facilities ordinance this June and begin comprehensive rezoning of the western portion of the county in the fall.

But the Maryland Growth and Chesapeake Bay Protection Act, as the 2020 bill is called, does more than "cloud" those efforts, Avin said. It also jeopardizes a "rural village" idea the council is exploring, as well as the residential-environmental and mixed-use zoning concepts proposed in the General Plan, he said.

Avin said he is concerned about an interim program proposed in the 2020 bill that could take effect in July and last until a new county zoning plan is approved by the state. But that might not happen before next year at the earliest and possibly not until January 1995. The interim program limits future development to areas within a five-year sewer plan and to areas already developed.

Since the county's sewer plan "does not represent market trends" or "long-established planning decisions," projects like Columbia's last village of River Hill that have been "on the drawing board" for years may become stranded, Avin said.

Not only that, but any development in interim areas "would be based on an uncertain future," because the interim zoning could be changed later when permanent regulations are approved by the state.

Theprocess for approving those regulations is flawed, Avin says. The bill calls for the Maryland Office of Planning to set the implementation regulations rather than putting "the accountability for what will ultimately be the very significant effects of the bill where it belongs -- with elected officials who are directly responsive to their constituents."

To adopt the bill as written is to take power from elected officials and give it to the administrative process, Avin said.

He suggested that the bill be amended and that it include a provision allowing the bill to expire if state financing to the counties becomes inadequate.

The bill assumes that "good" development means having denser suburban areas and "bad" development means having sprawling houses in rural areas, Avin said, and he quarrels with that.

The issue has not been studied enough "by local planners who work with development issues in the field on a daily basis," he said.

The interim provisions and grandfathering clauses of the bill are major concerns to Avin, he said. They are so strict that some individuals withprojects would be discouraged or delayed for several years while "those who can afford to will rush to get permits and vest their projects."

Avin argues that even if the rush results in "overbuilding andacceptance of high vacancy rates and financial losses (for those whoget the permits), it is an alternative that could be better for manythan a moratorium."

Some builders would lose land under the state's plan because of the bill's steep slope provisions. As a result, builders will seek rezonings to "recapture (their land) losses" or filea flurry of waiver requests, Avin predicted. He also anticipates an increase in lawsuits from owners who claim their land has been illegally devalued by zoning changes.

If Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George's counties lose the 225,000 future housing units under the bill, as Avin predicts they will, it will have "a very significant effect on the market and on housing and land values" in Howard, he said.

That, and the fact that a given level of state assistance for schools and roads can no longer be assumed under the bill, will make the county's long-term planning more speculative, Avin said.

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