When developer Robert DeStefano of the Sturbridge Development Co. sought a rezoning of 70 acres near Crofton to build a combination shopping center and community center, some residents were skeptical.
They asked what would happen if Mr. DeStefano changed his mind about paying for the community center once the rezoning had been approved.
And what would happen if the land was sold and the new owner didn't feel bound by Mr. DeStefano's promise to help the community.
To reassure residents, Mr. DeStefano proposed changing the county zoning law to create a zoning category called a "community service center growth management district."
If the proposal becomes law, a developer will be able to apply for the new zoning classification. The county would appoint a citizens committee to work with the developer to plan the project.
Once approved, the plan could not be changed without the citizen committee's approval -- even if the land was sold.
Mr. DeStefano's proposed development, The Village at Waugh Chapel, would be at Route 3 and Waugh Chapel Road. It would include about 200 apartments for the elderly, a home improvement center, a grocery store, medical offices, stores and restaurants.
It also would feature a 10,000-square-foot community center. Mr. DeStefano has said the retail center would pay for the community center's utilities and other operating costs.
Mr. DeStefano said the proposed zoning category would give residents of surrounding communities some say over what sort of development is built in an area.
The proposal includes a provision for a public hearing, he said.
Harry C. Blumenthal, a local zoning lawyer, is drafting the law.
Robert J. Scott, president of the Greater Crofton Council (GCC), said yesterday that the group has not adopted a position on the zoning proposal. He said he personally feels the change would be an improvement over the current law, which gives residents no control over development.
Mr. Scott said he hopes the law is written so that the citizens committee will have real authority, not just an advisory role. He also said the law should provide for some form of public hearing process. Mr. Scott said he hopes the GCC will vote on the proposed law at its Dec. 13 meeting.
Mr. DeStefano said he and his lawyer were rewriting the proposed law to give the citizens committee as much authority as legally possible. By law, he said, the county makes the final decision in zoning cases, and the county cannot relinquish that power to anyone else.
But the law would give the citizens committee legal standing, he said, and that would mean county planners would have to take the committee's opinion into account.
Glenn Akers, president of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association (GOIA), said yesterday that his organization also has not taken a position on the proposed law.
"We'll be looking at it very closely" because it would set a precedent for the county, he said.
Odenton has been fighting unplanned growth for years, he said, and GOIA will want to ensure any new law isn't merely an innovative way to open the door to improperly regulated development.
A revised version of the proposed legislation should be available for community leaders to review within two weeks, said Mr. DeStefano.
He also said he does not know when he will present it to the County Council for consideration. He first wants to win the support of the community associations, he said.