Redevelopment without rezoning backed

January 31, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore County Planning Board has endorsed legislation that officials view as a key to revitalizing the county's older commercial and industrial areas.

The Planned Unit Development (PUD) bill would allow redevelopment of many commercial properties without requiring a zoning change, something that can take up to four years.

By directing economic reinvestment to the older communities, mainly inside the Beltway, the bill also would discourage commercial developers from looking to the more rural areas of the county for new commercial ventures, Planning Director P. David Fields told the board Thursday.

"This is one of the most significant pieces of legislation in terms of economic development and stabilizing our older communities in at least a decade," he said.

The PUD legislation now goes to the County Council, where some members predicted relatively easy passage after a public hearing.

"We need something like this because we need commercial redevelopment in the older communities before [they] decay to the point of no return," said County Councilman Donald C. Mason, a 7th District Democrat. "I don't see any problems in getting this through the council." His district, which covers Dundalk, part of Essex and part of the Pulaski Highway corridor, contains many of the areas designated for commercial PUDs.

The measure has the support of community groups and developers, usually antagonists on zoning and development issues.

Donna Cameron, president of the District One Community Council, an umbrella group of 24 neighborhood organizations in the southwestern part of the county, said the commercial PUD legislation is a good idea. "Zoning changes usually have a negative impact on our older communities, so we think this will go a long way in helping areas like Catonsville, Arbutus and Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands," she said.

G. Scott Barhight, an attorney who represents many developers, said the commercial PUDs would make it easier to develop top-quality projects.

The commercial PUDS would be used primarily for properties in business, office and light-manufacturing zones.

The legislation would allow certain commercial uses on such properties regardless of the zoning.

For example, a 2-acre property on Pulaski Highway that is zoned for light manufacturing and now contains a boarded-up service station would require a zoning change before a developer could put up a mixed-use retail center with a restaurant.

With a commercial PUD, the developer, under strict design controls imposed by the county, could build the restaurant without a change in the zoning.

"This legislation gives the county and developer some flexibility without disturbing the existing zoning," Mr. Fields said. "If the proposed development falls through before construction, the zoning is still there as a safeguard."

Commercial PUDs still would be subject to the approval of the Planning Board after a public hearing, and any exceptions needed would require the zoning commissioner's approval.

Proposals still would have to go through the county's regular development review, which includes a community input meeting and public hearing.

"The concept sounds solid to me because if you have a vibrant business core, you also will retain a vibrant residential area around it," said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a 5th District Democrat.

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