Balto. Co. seeks plan with vision Residents' views sought on draft of 2010 proposal

'It lacks specifics'

Some officials fear process is rushed, endangering outcome

October 05, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Having moved to curtail sprawl and started the revitalization of its older suburbs, Baltimore County is turning its attention to education, public safety, business development and agricultural preservation as it plans for the 21st century.

In a departure from the traditional crafting of a master plan, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's administration is looking beyond land-use issues to articulate a broad vision of the future.

Among the proposals in the 2010 master plan: tighter regulation of building design, more enterprising police work, more autonomy in the schools and greater cooperation with other counties.

"We've already got a great plan for land," Ruppersberger says. "We've got to send a message for guidance for the future."

But concerns are being raised that the message is being garbled in a rush to complete the project by next summer.

"My concern at this point is that it is on a fast track," says Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican.

Riley says a preliminary draft adequately addressed public works and economic development issues, but fell short in articulating land-use goals. "This plan is congratulating ourselves on our past plans. We've got to do more than that," he says.

"It lacks vision and specifics," planning board member Wayne Skinner says, noting that public meetings on the plan are scheduled to begin Tuesday. "I don't know what the public can react to."

Although the plan is still evolving, planning director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller says it will differ clearly from the two previous plans.

In the 1979 plan, the county strove to contain urban sprawl by focusing growth in White Marsh and Owings Mills and reserving two-thirds of the county for rural conservation. In the 1989 plan, the county turned its attention to preserving established communities and called for greater cooperation with Baltimore.

The new master plan, while not legally binding, is meant to articulate a vision for the county -- a vision sometimes at odds with reality. For example, the proposed master plan suggests containing growth in rural areas by clustering new development in villages.

But residents have fought projects that cluster houses, favoring instead large-lot developments.

And while planners continue to call for developments with homes, businesses and stores in proximity, residents have consistently fought the intrusion of commercial development into residential neighborhoods.

Work on the plan began in January and has involved more than 100 community leaders and government employees on advisory committees. The committees made their recommendations in June, and planners since have set about turning the reports into a cohesive document.

Rural preservation

The plan, substantially revised from the first draft, is being refocused into basically two areas -- rural land preservation and community conservation, Keller says. As the document evolves, it is also becoming more specific, such as suggesting new laws to control design standards on new and renovated buildings.

The only major remaining land-use question is the issue of farm land, which continues to disappear despite preservation efforts.

Jack Dillon, director of the Valleys Planning Council, an influential land preservation group, says he supports some suggestions in the master plan, such as a program that would allow farmers to sell their rights to develop land. That would save farm land while allowing more intense development in other areas.

But Dillon says any plan to preserve land in the county should acknowledge the need to work to improve Baltimore. "We've got to get people moving back to the city," he says.

Acting on rural land preservation may take only a few years, and then the county must confront other problems, Keller says. "We're talking about moving into a different direction."

The tougher issues of reviving older neighborhoods, improving schools, reducing crime and creating jobs will become the county's priorities, he says. "Every agency has to shift its thinking in making sure the existing conservation areas stay healthy," he says.

Few specifics

Still, almost no specifics are being put forth to residents about how to address these issues.

Rather, the county is seeking public reaction to 10 issues being raised in the plan: public safety, education, employment opportunities, neighborhoods and business, land management, environment, public infrastructure and services, fiscal management, regional framework and design.

Keller says planners want to hear residents' views on these issues before the master plan is submitted to the planning board.

The plan is scheduled to go before the board this year. but Skinner wonders whether the board will have time to review it before new members are appointed, around the first of the year.

Although the county does not have to approve a new master plan until 1999, Keller wants to complete it before planners have to turn their attention to comprehensive rezoning next fall.

But he gave assurances that his department would take whatever time is needed. "We are not going to sacrifice the master plan for a timetable."

Ruppersberger sees no reason the planning board and council can't finish the document within a year: "You've got to set deadlines."

Public meetings

Public meetings on Baltimore County's new master plan will be held in each council district.

1st District, Catonsville High School, Tuesday.

6th District, Overlea High School, Wednesday.

2nd District, Pikesville High School, Thursday.

7th District, Patapsco High School, Oct. 14.

4th District, Loch Raven High School, Oct. 21.

3rd District, Franklin High School, Oct. 28.

5th District, Perry Hall Middle School, Oct. 29.

All meetings start at 7 p.m.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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