Owens move worries developers

Additional oversight could add day's delay to building projects

Conflict-of-interest issue

Land-use office assigns new team to company's projects

January 12, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Developers in Anne Arundel County are worried that County Executive Janet S. Owens' recent demand for more oversight of subdivision approvals might discourage construction projects by adding bureaucracy and delays.

Environmentalists praise the Democrat for trying to control suburban sprawl and prevent favors to well-connected developers.

A spokesman for Owens said yesterday that her decision to review all applications for major subdivisions and waivers of the county's growth-control laws will add a day to the evaluation of projects and will not stop growth.

"This review is simply the new administration's desire to make sure that the citizens are being properly served by the process," said Owens' spokesman Andrew C. Carpenter. "She wants to make sure she knows all the ins and outs of the subdivision review process."

The county executive's Dec. 23 decision to scrutinize decisions of the county's land-use office came in response to an article in The Sun revealing that a team of county planners led by planning administrator Mark Wedemeyer was recommending waivers for a company owned by Wedemeyer's father-in-law, Raymond Streib.

To prevent an appearance of a conflict of interest, the land-use office has a different team of planners reviewing projects engineered by Streib's company, Development Facilitators Inc.

County planning administrator Stephen V. Callahan is coordinating the review of subdivisions submitted by Streib, Carpenter said. Callahan has no connection to Streib,

Carpenter said.

Wedemeyer is also Streib's former employee.

More substantial change

The change announced yesterday was more substantial than an earlier action by the land-use office, which at first had one of Wedemeyer's employees coordinating the review of his father-in-law's projects.

Weems Duvall, president of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development, an environmental organization, praised Owens for cracking down on waivers and the "cozy" relationship between developers and the county's land-use office.

"I think this is a very good thing, because for many years the county's [growth control] laws were never enforced," Duvall said. "Developers always got waivers for everything. Now we have a county executive who recognizes that we have granted too many waivers, allowing uncontrolled growth."

Another step needed

Duvall said the county should take another step to remove possible conflicts of interest from the review of projects engineered by Development Facilitators Inc. The director of the county's planning department, Steven Cover, is also a former employee of the company and should stop reviewing his former company's projects, Duvall said.

The county executive believes the steps the county's land-use office has taken to prevent conflicts of interest are adequate, Carpenter said.

Susan Davies, co-director of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said she understands why a new county executive would want to step into the review process for subdivisions and waivers.

But Davies said she worries that running every proposal across the desk of the busy county executive could cause substantial delays.

"I don't want to overreact to the current situation," Davies said. "But in general, we get concerned whenever there is a potential for more delays. Because delays in the process mean more costs for the developer. One day's delay can cost $2,000."

`Layers of regulation'

Gary Beach, president of McCrone Inc., a development engineering company in Annapolis, said an additional layer of review could drive developers into other counties.

Such a loss would be costly for the county, Beach said, because the county uses the revenue from taxes paid by developers to finance improvements in education and other services.

"In general, my philosophy is that more layers of regulation tend to stand in the way of progress," said Beach. "The developers will start looking elsewhere if they feel that the process here is an arbitrary one and that their projects are always in jeopardy."

Pub Date: 1/12/99

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