SYKESVILLE — The Planning Commission and area developers agreed Monday night to work together to establish new planning guidelines that the panel hopes will help preserve a small-town flavor.
David S. Thaler, whose Baltimore engineering firm, D. S. Thaler and Associates, has been hired to complete the 179-home Shannon Run development here, told the commission that he agreed in principle with the concept.
"This is a concept whose time has come," Thaler said. "I think you're on the right track, but the guidelines need to be balanced against the developers' needs."
The proposed guidelines would offer developers alternative design plans for road widths, front-yard setbacks, open spaces, density, affordable housing and commercial site planning.
Developers representing the adjoining 234-home Hawk Ridge Farms and 64-home Carroll Fields projects told the commission they would like to be included in future planning workshops to help set up the guidelines.
Monday's meeting was a public hearing on the commission's December proposal that development reviews be frozen for 120 days,from Monday until the guidelines could be put in place.
The commission sought input from developers and the public to help it decide how to urge builders to change their planning designs.
But at a planning workshop Thursday, Town Attorney Cynthia K. Hitt told the commission it did not have the authority to freeze development reviews.
"You should go to the Town Council and ask for a moratorium in resolution form," she said.
Town Manager James L. Schumacher said afterMonday's meeting that the commission would defer a decision on such a resolution until next month.
Two Realtors, six representatives from the three developments in town and two residents attended the hearing. Although a number of questions were asked about implementation of the guidelines, overall reaction to the plan was favorable.
Jennifer Glass, a Long & Foster Realtors agent for Shannon Run, asked whether the proposed narrower streets would add to traffic congestion.
Commission member Jonathan Herman said side and rear parking was being considered instead of on-street parking. The main purpose of thenarrower streets is to slow traffic, making the neighborhood safer for residents, he said.
"Our plan would give the developer more creativity and flexibility in his design," Herman said. "We're trying tomake things more attractive to your buyers."
Another change wouldbe shorter front-yard setbacks to give a greater sense of community,he said.
Developers expressed concern over the effect of the guidelines on their projects, some of which are being constructed in phases.
Although building may not have been started, preliminary plans, which the developers would have to change to meet the new guidelines, have already been approved.
Town Attorney Dennis Hoover said construction that doesn't have sewer tap approval could not begin untilAugust, when the county's moratorium on the Freedom District Sewage Plant will be lifted.
The commission hopes to have its guidelines in place well before that, he said.
"We're trying to give you fairnotice about the guidelines," Hoover said. "You can get your permitsand approvals and even start building as planned before the new guidelines are applied, but it might be prudent for you to go along with us on this."
Commission Chairman Dennis Karr told the developers that by making some of the guideline changes, they could save development costs.
"All residents, both new and old, will benefit from thepreservation of Sykesville's unique beauty and character," Karr added.
Schumacher also assured the developers that the commission has no plans to halt any project in an advanced stage.