Zoning vote delayed on Waverly Woods II

January 20, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Normally, County Council members can't wait to be heard.

They were not so anxious during yesterday's deliberations on the proposed Waverly Woods II development, which included a 15-minute closed session and ended without a decision. Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, must rule on a petition to rezone 682 rural acres in Marriottsville and Woodstock for a Columbia-style village.

"That's what happens when you have public sessions -- no one wants to talk," said Zoning Board Chairman C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat who represents eastern Columbia.

It was the Zoning Board's first public work session on a hotly contested zoning case under a new state open meetings law that took effect in July. The case has already required 16 days of public hearings from March to December, as both sides to argued their sides and cross-examined each others' witnesses.

Councilman Darrel Drown, a 2nd District Republican, suggested the board meet in private for legal consultation. State law permits public bodies to meet in closed session "to consult with counsel to obtain legal advice."

The law also requires a vote to go into private session, which Mr. Gray later said he mistakenly neglected to call. After the meeting was reopened, all five council members voted to close it retroactively.

Lawmakers said reviewing legal strategy was necessary to deal with likely court challenges, no matter which way they decide the case.

Paul Johnson, deputy county solicitor and counsel to the board, said board members needn't fear having a decision overturned because of their comments.

"I don't think that's too much of a danger, because it's the decision and order that a court's going to look at, not what the members say in a work session," Mr. Johnson said.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a Republican who represents western Howard, said open work sessions slow the process, inhibit discussion and could work against the public's best interest.

"There's times when you might bend from the law a little bit and maybe help the applicant or help the protestant," he said. Closed sessions allow the "human element" to enter into otherwise legally constrained deliberations, he said.

Before the closed session, members took another vote affirming the definition of the neighborhood by the Department of Planning and Zoning, which recommended approving the zoning changes. Beyond that, members danced gingerly around the legal issues required for an individual, or "piecemeal" rezoning. The board must determine there was a mistake in the zoning or there has been a change in the neighborhood's character since the 1985 comprehensive rezoning to approve the proposal.

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