Owens reins in Arundel planners Officials forbidden to review proposals by family members

December 29, 1998|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens is demanding that the county's land-use office avoid favors for well-connected developers and stop approving waivers of growth-control laws without her approval.

In a strongly worded memorandum released yesterday, the recently elected Democrat ordered the director of the county Department of Planning and Code Enforcement to bar county employees from reviewing subdivisions proposed by their family members.

Owens' crackdown was in response to a Sun article last week revealing that a team of county land-use officials led by planning administrator Mark Wedemeyer had recommended waivers for at least three subdivisions proposed by Wedemeyer's father-in-law, Raymond Streib.

In the case of the 19-home Meadow Run subdivision on Mountain Road in Pasadena, the county waived a county traffic-control law in 1995 that would have stopped the project or required the developer to pay $20 million to widen the congested road.

"The issues raised in the Baltimore Sun article are very troubling and I want to see your action plans that will prevent the reoccurrence of such issues in the future," Owens wrote in a Dec. 23 letter to county Planning Director Steven R. Cover.

Defenders of the county's land-use office have said that none of the waivers for projects engineered by Streib's company, Development Facilitators Inc., was unusual or showed evidence of favoritism.

Former County Executive John G. Gary has argued that no impropriety existed in the relationship between Wedemeyer and Streib's company, which formerly employed Wedemeyer and Cover, because Streib did not own the subdivisions.

Developers paid Streib, who was one of the largest contributors to Gary's campaign, to guide development proposals past the opposition of neighbors and through the land-use office.

The county's ethics commission issued an opinion in December 1997 that Wedemeyer violated anti-nepotism provisions in county ethics laws. The commission said Wedemeyer should not have reviewed the 78-home Willow Run subdivision in Pasadena because Streib had a clear financial interest in a positive recommendation from his son-in-law.

Since that ethics commission report, the land-use office has tried to avoid an appearance of conflict-of-interest by having one of Wedemeyer's subordinates coordinate the review of his father-in-law's proposals.

Local residents and state Del.-elect Mary Rosso, a northern Anne Arundel Democrat, criticize the arrangement, pointing out that Wedemeyer's subordinate, Lori Allen, might be reluctant to hurt her boss' family.

County land-use spokesman John Morris said yesterday that safeguards in place to prevent favoritism are adequate because Wedemeyer doesn't sign the final approvals for waivers of county growth-control laws. That is done by Cover.

Owens isn't satisfied.

In her memo to the land-use office, Owens wrote that "effective immediately no waiver for any developer or developer's representative shall be granted without my express knowledge and prior approval."

The county executive made it clear that her prohibition on the appearance of favoritism applies countywide, and includes not just approvals of waivers but also the processing of applications for subdivisions and final negotiations with developers.

Wedemeyer and Cover could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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