'Citizens . . . are crying for some sort of input'

February 06, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

County Council members and zoning officials spent nearly an hour haggling over proposed amendments to two community-input bills Tuesday before turning the public hearing on the proposed legislation over to the public for comment.

"Citizens in this state are crying for some sort of input," said Robert Dillon, president of the Joppa-Magnolia Civic Association. said his association supported both bills, which were initiated by Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, and Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, to increase citizen involvement in the development approval process.

One of the bills would require posting of zoning and land-use maps in sales offices of new home developments and in public libraries. The other would increase public participation in Development Advisory Committee (DAC) meetings, which are held by the county planning department to review subdivision plans.

Ruth Felker of Freys Road in Edgewood noted that had the proposed laws been in existence earlier, she may have avoided problems she encountered when land adjacent to property she owns was developed.

The bill calls for written notification of adjacent property owners when a development proposal is scheduled for review by the DAC, so that interested neighbors can attend the meeting.

"If these things are put before us early, we can get out there and do something about it," she said.

While the bill has a majority of the council behind it, the administration is not sold on it.

In fact, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has proposed separate legislation on community input, which was introduced in council last month. That bill is due for a public hearing Feb. 15.

Meanwhile the administration proposed eight amendments to the council's bill in an attempt to reach a compromise on the issue.

Among them was one that broadens the bill's "fast-track" language exempting certain developments from public review to include any project the executive labels "fast track."

The fast track is an accelerated program in which the county moves certain economically promising commercial and industrial projects quickly through the permit-approval process.

The administration also objected to language requiring every county department that is a member of DAC to attend committee meetings and opposed adding new members to the committee, including a representative from the Chamber of Commerce and a citizen appointed by the County Council.

William Carroll, the county's planning director, said that mailing notices of DAC meetings to neighbors is "a cumbersome process" that will add to administrative costs and delay scheduling of meetings.

But Mrs. Pierno defended her legislation, noting that its intent was to keep residents informed and respond to their comments.

"If we're going to have citizens at that meeting, then certainly we want representatives of all the agencies involved to be there, too," she said.

"I'm sure enforcement will be somewhat of a burden to the administration, but the benefit to the public will outweigh that."

Most of the citizens who attended the hearing favored the legislation.

But William Maloney voiced some objections from the Harford County Homebuilders Association.

He said the homebuilding industry supports posting of zoning and land-use maps in libraries and home sales offices but not in real estate offices or model homes.

He said the homebuilders also would prefer to see DAC membership limited to professional and technical agency heads, complaint echoed by the administration.

"It changes the purpose of DAC from a technical committee to a citizen review board, and that changes the whole philosophy of the committee," said George Harrison, spokesman for the county executive.

At the same time, Mr. Harrison stressed that Mrs. Rehrmann has not given up on a compromise with the council.

"None of this means, 'Let's kill the bill.' It's just, 'Let's make it workable to achieve what we all want it to achieve,' " he said.

"We need to be sure that certain elements don't negatively impact our fast-track and economic development efforts."

Mrs. Pierno said she would be working with Economic Development Director James D. Fielder to revise some of the amendments still in dispute for consideration at this week's council meeting.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

* Introduced legislation outlining the recreational element of the county's Master Land Use Plan. The bill describes a long-range strategy for maintaining open space in a balance of natural resource preservation and recreational use. A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 1.

* Approved a property tax credit to nine properties adjacent to the county's Scarboro landfill.

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