The Baltimore County Council has delayed for a month a vote on a new development review process for the county after the proposal drew criticism.
The proposal was designed to give communities greater input in the development approval process, and also is to cut red tape for developers.
However, community leaders and developers alike have complained that the proposed changes would grant an administrative law judge too much discretion in approving projects. Residents also have criticized as too vague the preliminary plan that developers would have to submit under the proposed new system.
For more than a year, county officials have been working to change their decade-old method of reviewing development plans. Community groups, developers and even county officials have complained for years that the process was too rigid.
County Executive Roger B. Hayden's administration introduced legislation Monday that would establish the new review system.
After an informal work session Tuesday, County Council members decided to push back the Dec. 16 target date for approval of the bill to Jan. 21.
In the current system, a plan for a new development gets submitted to a two-member County Review Group (CRG) made up of one official each from the county's planning and public works departments. The CRG has no discretionary powers but merely determines whether or not the plan meets all county development regulations.
Community organizations complained that their only voice in what kind of projects are built in their neighborhood is through the appeal process after the project has been oked by the county. County officials said about 10 percent of development approvals get appealed.
The proposed new review process would:
* Create a community input meeting (CIM) in which a developer would present a preliminary plan and receive feedback from residents. It is hoped that any conflicts between the community and developer could be worked out at this stage.
* Require that a more detailed plan and any requests for modifications come before an administrative law judge, tentatively slated to be the county zoning commissioner, at a quasi-judicial hearing. The judge could approve or deny the plan, impose other conditions, and grant or deny variance and special exceptions requests.
Kay Turner, representing the Alliance of Baltimore County Community Councils which voted to oppose the legislation in its present form, told the council that the discretionary powers of the administrative law judge should be more clearly defined.
The alliance represents 15 area councils encompassing several hundred community groups and homeowners associations.
Richard W. McQuaid, president of the Maryland Line Area Association, called the preliminary plan "nothing more than a blank piece of paper" and said the proposal continues the perception of "government of developers, by developers and for developers."
Stuart D. Kaplow, an attorney who represents many developers before county agencies, said developers have no problem with community input meetings. Like some community leaders, however, he also said the powers of the administrative law judge seemed overly discretionary.
Council members decided to delay action in response to the criticism.
"We need to overcome the perceptions that the development review process in the county is unfair," said Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger 3rd, D-3rd.