Council to revisit zoning changes

Previous legislation targeted as lacking input from public

January 25, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Supporters call it the cleanup County Council. Critics label it the cartwheel council, turning everything upside down.

Anne Arundel County's almost entirely new seven-member legislature is taking what some of those affected say is the rare and potentially frightening step of trying to overturn three laws passed by the previous council.

The council will vote next month on proposals:

To revise an April 1998 zoning law change that would allow a 60,000-seat auto racing stadium in Pasadena;

To reverse April 1997 legislation that saved the wood-chipping business of a friend and business associate of former Councilman Thomas W. Redmond Sr.;

To remove a November 1997 change to the county's land-use plan for the Parole area that would allow mixed-use development of apartments and shops.

Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., the County Council's new chairman and a Democrat, said the council does not want to set the precedent of overturning laws created through the process spelled out in the county charter.

But Klosterman said the council is reviewing these three cases because members are worried the previous council did not allow enough input from residents or follow proper procedures.

"Much of what happened in the last administration was not good public policy," Klosterman said. "In most of these cases, the people did not feel that they got their fair day in court. We want to give them their fair day in court."

David Plymyer, deputy county attorney, said no law says the council cannot rewrite or eliminate legislation passed during the previous administration, as long as those changes do not improperly deprive landowners of their rights.

"Laws can be made and they can be unmade," Plymyer said. "This council is not willy-nilly going in and reversing anything they don't like. They are trying to redress specific wrongs, as they see them."

Business wants certainty

But Robert Douglas, a spokesman for Chesapeake Motorsports Development Corp. seeking to build a track south of the Key Bridge, warned that what he saw as the council's fickleness could scare away developers who need a predictable political environment to invest.

"This council apparently wants to undo what was legally done by the prior elected officials? That precedent could be mind-boggling," Douglas said. "Certainty is probably the most important factor for business."

Six of the council's seven members were sworn into office for the first time last month, replacing veterans whom some had criticized as being too friendly to developers. The council's political makeup also changed. from 4-3 Republican to a 5-2 Democratic majority.

Many of the new council members campaigned on platforms that they would clean up what they described as the favoritism of the last council.

The council will hold a public hearing Feb. 1 on a proposal by Pasadena-area Councilwoman A. Shirley Murphy, a Democrat, to revise legislation passed in April 1998 that allows racing stadiums on land with heavy industrial zoning.

Normal process

Murphy's bill would allow tracks on industrial land only if the developers win the approval of the county's administrative hearing officer after a public meeting.

Murphy said that making Chesapeake Motorsports Development Corp. appear at a public hearing would be the normal process for major projects such as the $100 million stadium proposed north of Riviera Beach.

She said she was disturbed that her predecessor, Redmond, and his allies on the council rushed through a bill that would have done the developers a favor by not requiring them to appear before the county's administrative hearing officer.

"When you change the zoning laws for a project of this magnitude, [appearing before the county's administrative hearing officer] is the way it has always been done, to make sure the project fits into the neighborhood," Murphy said.

The track's spokesman, Douglas, said the zoning law change introduced by Redmond should remain on the books because racetracks are allowed on land with lighter industrial zoning.

Wood-mulching business

On Feb. 16, Murphy will seek to reverse another law introduced by Redmond, who said he was switching parties to become a Republican after his defeat in the Democratic primary in September.

The former councilman from Pasadena cast the deciding vote in 1997 in favor of a zoning law change that saved the wood-mulching business of neighbor William H. Debaugh Jr. by allowing "wood-waste recycling" on commercial and industrial land.

Before Redmond's bill passed, the county's land-use office had threatened to close DeBaugh's A. A. Recycle & Sand because it did not have proper zoning approval.

The county's Ethics Commission last year ruled that Redmond had violated the county's ethics laws by voting in favor of the proposal, because Redmond did not reveal that his construction debris hauling business had ties with DeBaugh's business. Redmond dumped waste at DeBaugh's site, and DeBaugh paid Redmond for use of his trash bin.

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