The appointment of a holdover Democrat by Republican Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden to the sensitive post of county zoning commissioner is to be withdrawn, although Hayden denies that political pressure caused the move.
Arnold Jablon's name will be withdrawn as a nominee for county zoning commissioner, though Hayden said yesterday that Jablon will play an undefined but pivotal role in administering a reform of the county development-approval process.
The move came after a week of quiet but intense political pressure from Republican Party figures and anti-development community activists who view Jablon as a symbol of pro-development interests and of the defeated Democratic administration of Dennis F. Rasmussen, for whom he served.
Jablon served as county zoning commissioner from 1983 to 1987, and as county attorney until earlier this year. He served as legal adviser to the county school board during much of Hayden's 12-year tenure on the board, and is now deputy county attorney.
Hayden also was pressured by several County Council members who were hoping to avoid the threatened appearance of dozens of Jablon opponents at a council meeting Monday night. The council was due to vote on Jablon's change of jobs at its June 17 meeting, meaning that public comments would be allowed after the June 3 meeting.
The executive said he was not swayed either by the entreaties of council Chairman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, or by a strongly worded anti-Jablon letter from U.S. Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, copies of which were also sent to the three Republican council members and to Donald C. Mason, D-7th.
"Neither of these items caused me to change my mind," Hayden said.
In fact, sources said, the tone of Bentley's letter was so strident that it almost provoked the executive to insist on Jablon's appointment in the face of the opposition.
Rather, Hayden said yesterday, after realizing the complexity of the changes he is proposing he decided that Jablon's "unique qualifications" would be better used to shepherd the reform process in its formative stages. He did not want Jablon bogged down with routine zoning commissioner duties, he said.
For now, Hayden said, Zoning Commissioner J. Robert Haines, another Rasmussen holdover, would remain in his post until a new nominee can be found. The change also means that a new second deputy zoning commissioner's position created last year will not be filled, Hayden said. That position will now be used by Jablon, who may be called "development coordinator."
The changes Hayden has proposed in the development process would give communities greater access in the development approval process by eliminating the current two-person bureaucratic County Review Group system.
The CRG would be replaced by an administrative law judge, who would be more subjective in evaluating residents' complaints about water, traffic and compatibility of new developments. The judge, who would be a zoning or deputy zoning commissioner, also would speed the process for developers by simultaneously considering zoning waivers and special exceptions, now a separate process.
The changes would also wipe out the current presumption of legal correctness that goes with CRG approvals and has made them virtually impossible to reverse on appeal. The County Council must approve any reforms.