The Baltimore County Planning Board passed a Towson Community Plan yesterday that would place approval of development projects in the hands of two advisory panels and an administrative law judge.
The 60-page plan, which was approved 14-0, spells out where and what type of buildings can be constructed and under what restrictions. It will be the focus of County Council public hearings before the council adopts a final plan by year's end.
The result of two years' study and intensive lobbying by developers and community groups, the plan was modified in the past week to address developers' concerns that it largely prohibited future projects.
Stephen W. Lafferty, chairman of the Planning Board's Towson subcommittee, said a design review committee would now make recommendations about building height restrictions to an administrative law judge appointed to oversee zoning issues.
The judge would have the final say on building heights, he said.
In a draft released in July, developers would have been restricted to a complicated series of strict height limits. These were stricken from the plan adopted last night.
Developers also had opposed the original proposal's call for lifting an exemption, granted a decade ago to Towson property owners, that let them win approval for projects without first showing there were adequate basic services, such as roads.
The exemption remains important because York Road and Burke Avenue, near the heart of Towson, has been classified as a failing intersection; a basic services requirement would require the widening of York Road before any development could occur nearby. Any widening of York Road is at least two years away, county officials say.
Under amendments included by the Planning Board, the exemption would be lifted but developers could still win approval of projects if they convinced a proposed traffic-management authority that steps had been taken to minimize traffic impact.
Final approval of the traffic plans also would be up to the administrative law judge.
The plan approved last night also struck references to ROA zoning, a classification that would have prohibited major exterior renovations to houses that have been converted to professional offices in residential areas.
Mr. Lafferty said the plan would include language that "strongly discourages" converting houses into offices in residential areas.
Community leaders said last night that key factors in how effectively the plan regulated growth would be who was appointed to the design and transportation committees and how well they worked.