Site plan review changes considered Commissioners weigh small business needs

May 21, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

If you want to open a snowball stand or build a Wal-Mart in Carroll County, the development procedure is the same: long and often tedious.

Both businesses must navigate a bureaucratic labyrinth of county and state agencies dealing with health, soil conservation, engineering, safety and environmental concerns. Both must appear before county boards and committees. And both could pay thousands of dollars in legal expenses and county fees.

It can take six to 12 months for final approval.

The County Commissioners will consider today whether to change this one-size-fits-all policy, allowing smaller businesses to take a short cut through the county's site development review process.

"There are certain types of site plans that can be done quickly without a lot of bureaucratic red tape," said Philip J. Rovang, director of planning development.

"In some cases, our procedures are overkill," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who asked the Department of Planning and Development to explore ways to expedite the process.

Under a planning staff proposal to be presented today, three types of businesses would be allowed to use an abbreviated site plan review process:

Existing residences converting a portion of the home into a business.

Existing commercial properties seeking to expand business in a way that doesn't affect the sewer or water systems or road entrances.

Any new development that doesn't take up more than 20,000 square feet, about a half-acre.

The county may consider other types of larger developments for the faster process, Rovang said.

In each case, the county would push the project through the development review process quickly by eliminating some meetings and paperwork, Rovang said. More details will be available in today's report.

The new development review process would be separate from the Fastrack Program sponsored by the Office of Economic Development, which allows select businesses to move quickly through the development process.

"I think we need to be citizen- friendly. There is no point in penalizing people with service fees when the review just takes 10 hours. There's no justification for the costs," Rovang said.

He said his department hasn't determined the fees of a shorter review process. Those details will be investigated once the commissioners decide whether to pursue the proposal, he said.

Dell said he expects the changes to be popular among small-business owners.

"Anything we can do to ease regulations I think business will be in favor of," he said.

One business owner who is looking for changes is Samuel G. Battaglia, owner of Taneytown Farm Equipment. Battaglia's struggles with the site plan review process are the impetus behind the changes, Dell said.

Battaglia said he has been forced to spend $15,000 for what he says is an unnecessary site plan review to open a farm equipment and service business in a newly built barn north of Taneytown.

Under county zoning laws, Battaglia said, the same barn could have been constructed without a site plan review if he had planned to use it to house livestock. But because the barn houses a business, Battaglia said, it is costing him thousands of dollars more in legal, engineering and county service fees.

After hearing Battaglia's request for a zoning variance to open his business, the Board of Zoning Appeals said he was not required to complete a full site plan but could submit an abbreviated plan. Later, however, this decision was reversed by the county after the board realized that a process for an abbreviated plan did not exist.

Battaglia is completing a site plan under a special agreement reached with the county with Dell's assistance. He said if he had known the process would be so much trouble, he would have opened his business elsewhere.

"I would have moved three miles up the road to Pennsylvania," he said.

Pub Date: 5/21/98

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