Bill aimed at Honeygo approved

May 17, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore County Council enacted unanimously last night a far-reaching zoning law aimed at strengthening planned communities but which some critics contend could lead to abuses of power.

The bill would allow the council to make zoning changes outside the usual four-year comprehensive zoning cycle. Introduced by Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, D-5th, it is aimed primarily at protecting the Honeygo Community Plan, the most ambitious planned development in the county in decades.

Excludes agricultural land

An amendment restricts the bill's authority to property within the Urban Rural Demarcation Line -- in effect excluding agricultural land.

The legislation gives the council more flexibity in rezoning, but only within a comprehensive community plan and only after the plan is made part of the county's master plan for land use.

Previously, the council could make major zoning changes only every fourth year. Interim zoning changes were allowed by the county Board of Appeals, but only if the board determined that the council erred in the original zoning or if conditions changed drastically.

Abuses feared

Dr. Richard W. McQuaid, president of the Maryland Line Area Association, said there already are enough abuses of the comprehensive rezoning process without rezoning occurring year-round.

"The opportunity for abuse of this power is limitless if this bill passes," said Dr. McQuaid. "It would be acceptable if the powers were restricted to reducing zoning classifications and if all rural conservation zones were excluded from the bill."

Nearly all of the land outside the farthest extension of public water and sewer is in low-density Rural Conservation Zones to protect rural and agricultural area.

Dorothy McMann, president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association, said she also would be more comfortable if the bill were limited to reducing the number of homes that can be built on a parcel of land.

Mrs. McMann has been one of the leading activists pushing for the Honeygo Community Plan, which calls for 5,556 homes, mostly single-family units, spread over 2 1/2 square miles just north of Perry Hall. It would be the most comprehensively planned large-scale development to emerge in either of the county's two growth areas -- Perry Hall-White Marsh and Owings Mills.

With its current zoning, the Honeygo area could encompass twice as many homes, and last night's legislation will allow the council to reduce the zoning density there outside the standard zoning cycle.

'Plenty of safeguards'

"There are plenty of safeguards in the bill," Mr. Gardina said. "Plus, to preserve the integrity of any community plan there has to be the flexibility to change the zoning upward and downward."

Mr. Gardina said that under current law, a community plan, even one contained in the master plan, is an advisory document only. But by making the zoning changes correspond to land uses in the community plan would make compliance with that plan mandatory.

The council is expected to exercise its new power in August or September to reclassify the zoning in the Honeygo plan area.

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