Baltimore County Council approves giving neighbors say in subdivisions

April 16, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

When Beth Hannon tried to fight plans to build a housing development in a field near her Glyndon home, she felt her concerns expressed to county officials fell on deaf ears.

"We objected to its effect on the environment, on the traffic congestion and on the added storm water it would mean," said Mrs. Hannon, whose home on Sacred Heart Lane will soon be neighbor to the 94 houses she opposed. "We didn't get anywhere."

Last night, the Baltimore County Council passed legislation that will offer communities some say in the approval of developments -- but the council tabled a more drastic measure sought by some community activists.

The council passed a measure that spells out when the county Board of Appeals can hear arguments from a community fighting a development already approved by the County Review Group. The measure means a community would be able to argue that the County Review Group's approval of a development showed "evidence of error or arbitrary or capricious action or fraud or illegality."

Councilman C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, D-3rd, sponsor of the bill, said that the law was intended to reverse the effects of a March 1 Court of Special Appeals decision that stripped communities of any meaningful say in the approval process.

Mr. Ruppersberger's measure passed 5-2, with Councilman Donald Mason, D-7th, and Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, voting in opposition.

Mrs. Manley sponsored a measure that would have required the Board of Appeals to hear a community's case from scratch -- disregarding all comments by county officials at earlier hearings. That bill was tabled last night.

Council members said they realized the system needed reform but would await proposals from Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden, due to be released late next month.

Public hearings also will probably be held as a key step in adopting any reforms, they said.

Community leaders and their attorneys have said for years that the county's process for approving subdivisions needs reforming because it gives them little say.

As a first step in the process, the review group meets and reviews comments from county environmental health, planning, fire and licensing officials. But community concerns about traffic water quality, school capacity and open space -- even if offered by expert witnesses -- are heard only as advisory comments.

If community statements conflict with county staff comments, the law requires that the review panel assume the county staff is correct. This shuts out the community, activists say.

Mr. Hayden said his plan would aim toward giving communities a "more meaningful role" in the development process. "We have to let the community, the builder and the developer get together early on in the process, before the key decisions are made," Mr. Hayden said.

The council also:

* Agreed to transfer $750,000 into Baltimore County Revenue Authority accounts so that the agency can begin negotiating to purchase Pikesville's Pikes Theater, which the county plans to turn into a cultural arts center.

* Set guidelines for county purchasing agents to buy recycled paper and other recyclable materials whenever possible.

* Tabled a request by Mrs. Manley to transfer funds to buy the 13-acre Loveman Tract off Harlem Lane in Catonsville.

The tract is listed in the master plan as a possible park site, but several council members said its $1.4 million cost was too high. Last night's action clears the way for it to be sold to a developer planning to build 80 town houses.

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