Zoning bill seeks better notification

Keeping neighbors apprised is goal of Balto. County measure

`It is a suggestion'

Activists criticize lack of penalties for noncompliance

June 23, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

In a bid to avoid development proposals that catch neighborhoods by surprise -- and trigger nasty disputes -- the Baltimore County Council is considering a bill that would toughen notification requirements in some rezonings.

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat and sponsor of the bill, says the measure would keep residents better informed about changes in their communities. The proposal would require landowners to tell neighbors when they seek a change during the comprehensive rezoning process, which occurs every four years.

But community activists say the bill is too weak because it lacks penalties for those who don't comply.

Residents say landowners should be required to post notices on their land when they want such zoning changes. The residents want zoning changes to be nullified if owners don't comply with the law, and they have asked the council for more time to comment on proposed changes.

"This is the most critical process because you are deciding the use of the land," said Ruth Baisden, secretary of the Greater Parkville Community Council.

Bartenfelder said a dispute in his district two years ago prompted him to introduce the bill.

Neighbors of the proposed Locksley Conserve near Manor Road and Jarrettsville Pike were outraged when they learned that during the last comprehensive rezoning process in 1996 the zoning had been changed to increase the development potential from two to 26 houses.

County planners had supported the property owner's request as being consistent with zoning on adjacent land, and Bartenfelder thought neighbors did not oppose the project.

He later learned, however, that residents next to the proposed development did not know about the project until they saw surveyors place ribbons on trees.

Baisden and others are seeking an even stricter law than Bartenfelder has proposed.

She noted that Baltimore County residents rarely are able to defeat projects that comply with the zoning on the land. The only chance residents have to halt development is to fight for more restrictive zoning. And while the Planning Board and County Council hold public hearings on rezoning requests, many residents never know about them, she said.

Baisden said she only accidentally learned that the owner of land adjacent to hers wanted to change the zoning from residential to commercial in the last comprehensive rezoning process in 1996. She unsuccessfully fought that change.

In Carney, residents didn't know that the owner of property on Joppa Road wanted to change the zoning that year until it was too late, she said.

Originally, the developer proposed building a strip shopping center. After learning of the plan, residents were able to scale down the project, but not defeat it, because the zoning had been changed from residential to commercial.

Bartenfelder said he might introduce an amendment to his legislation allowing neighbors more time for comment, but does not agree that properties should be posted and owners penalized if they don't comply.

"This is a start," he said. "You've got to start somewhere."

Baisden was unconvinced. "Without a penalty, it is not really a start. It is a suggestion," she said.

The council is scheduled to vote on the bill July 6.

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