Towson: Fine-tuning Zoning Process

August 10, 1991

Baltimore County is experiencing a peculiar situation. Any person, association, corporation or county agency wanting properties reclassified must file for rezoning by Oct. 31. Yet the -- final rules by which rezoning requests will be judged won't be approved until much later by the Planning Board and the County Council.

Will this anomaly lead to hardships? Planning officials such as Robert H. Bendler Jr. think that will not be the case. Because the new rules are ready and subject to a Sept. 5 Planning Board hearing, "for the first time applicants know what the guidelines are in advance," he argues. Some developers disagree, saying any change in development regulations now is "ill-timed."

For several years now, a broad spectrum of opinion -- ranging from community groups to such consultants as Legg Mason Realty Group -- have contended that the county's standards of development are inadequate and need to be consolidated and updated. County officials have been trying to revise development guidelines ever since a new master plan was adopted in late 1989. That plan advocates conserving economic and environmental resources while urging that special attention be given to maintaining older residential and commercial communities.

The new regulations try to streamline the approval process and make quality development easier. A clearly defined flow chart, -- with approval deadlines by county agencies, is a key part of the proposed new regulations. Another key part is a document that revises the way the county will handle planned unit developments.

The county's first planned unit development -- PUD in the vernacular -- was Lakeside, now known as Owings Mills New Town, in 1986. The second was Mays Chapel. Based on these and other experiences, planners decided that 250 acres was far too large a land area requirement and that smaller parcels would benefit from the flexibility of PUD regulations and a streamlined approval process. The new language proposes that tracts as small as five acres could be considered for the clustering of planned unit developments. That, planners argue, would not only promote better design quality in new communities but also would make them more cost-efficient to build.

Because of required hearings, the County Council is unlikely to consider the proposed regulations before November. Final approval may even come as late as December. That is bringing it dangerously close to the wire. However, since councilmen still can propose zoning changes until Jan. 15, 1992, we do not see how anyone would be excluded from having rezoning petitions considered.

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