Reichlin new chief of zoning panel Board's ex-chairman, Schumacher, ousted from post last month

'He did a good job'

3-member committee can reverse rulings of planning commission

October 15, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Karl V. Reichlin, senior member of the county Board of Zoning Appeals, was elected chairman of the three-member panel yesterday, replacing a colleague whose demotion was linked to his voting record.

Reichlin, who succeeds James L. Schumacher, was first appointed to the board in 1993 to fill an unexpired term. He was reappointed in 1994 and again last year. This will be his second term as chairman.

Schumacher was ousted during a closed session last month when the County Commissioners voted 2-1 to demote him to an alternate's role and appoint alternate Ronald Hoff to succeed him.

The Board of Zoning Appeals is a quasi-judicial board that hears cases involving developer requests for special projects. The board also hears appeals of planning commission decisions.

It was the latter role that brought the board under fire from Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates last year. The pair saw the board as impeding the slow-growth decisions being delivered by the planning commission.

After his election yesterday, Reichlin said he had "no idea" what direction the board might take under his leadership.

He took a moment to praise Schumacher.

"He did a good job," Reichlin said.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who joined Yates in voting to replace Schumacher, had no comment on last month's vote. But Yates indicated that it might have been related to Schumacher's vote against a Yates ally seeking unrestricted flights at a private airport in South Carroll.

Schumacher also voted against the $32 million Promenade shopping center in Eldersburg -- a project favored by county officials and approved by board members Reichlin and Hoby Wolf. Schumacher felt the center proposal, which called for three restaurants, a 14-screen theater with stadium seating, and a 300,000-square-foot retail complex, would increase traffic in a congested area.

Yesterday, five South Carroll residents -- including two who opposed the Promenade center -- watched the election of the chairman.

"We had heard that the decision would be made privately over lunch," said Roberta Windham of Eldersburg, one of the chief opponents of Promenade. "We called the county attorney and suggested it be done in a public forum. We were here today to see that come to fruition."

Eldersburg resident Phil Bennett, who frequently attends appeals board hearings, said he showed up for the vote yesterday because he is "concerned that the county commissions and boards are being stacked in a one-sided way."

The five South Carroll residents were also concerned that Wolf -- a Yates appointee and Eldersburg airstrip owner with whom they have often sparred -- might become the new chairman.

But the board, with Schumacher still presiding, chose its most experienced member as chairman.

During his tenure in 1996, Reichlin presided over many cases appealed to the board by developers whose plans had been rejected by the planning commission.

He and Schumacher often voted to overturn those decisions, but when doing so, often imposed restrictive conditions on developers. They often required, for example, that residential subdivisions be built in stages so as not to burden schools or roads.

Yates and Brown were concerned about those reversals and sought for a time last year to strip the board of its appellate power. They wanted appeals of planning commission decisions to go directly to Circuit Court and met with the appeals board to discuss the idea.

"We provided a system of order" by allowing development to proceed once the schools and other infrastructure were in place to support it, Schumacher told the commissioners.

Reichlin agreed. "Slowed development has happened," he told the commissioners. "Our decisions have not speeded it up."

Reichlin and Schumacher have agreed on most things during their service together on the appeals board.

Ironically, Reichlin also had questions about allowing unrestricted flights at the South Carroll airport owned by Edward Primoff.

Although his final vote on Promenade differed from Schumacher's, Reichlin also expressed concerns about traffic -- but not to the same degree.

"It's going to create traffic," but not at peak hours, he said during the board's discussion of the issue. "But in my mind, the good points outweigh some of the bad points." The county planning office has the "expertise and the clout" to require what is needed to mitigate traffic congestion, he said.

Pub Date: 10/15/98

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