A 20,000-square-foot gymnasium and auditorium. Five acres added to a research park. Restrooms and a concession stand at a community park. Bigger parking lots at an elderly housing complex.
Sound like insignificant changes?
They did to Baltimore County officials who approved the projects -- but not to neighbors who oppose the work and want to have their say.
Now they will.
Last week, the county Board of Appeals reversed a long-standing policy and agreed to hear appeals in cases where developers have been given permission to build without a public hearing.
The change occurs in response to residents' complaints that although development plans must be debated openly, developers often are allowed to change plans without public comment.
"I was overwhelmed by the board's recognition that the citizens had no place to go," said J. Carroll Holzer, a lawyer who for five years has fought for the right to appeal Development Review Committee decisions. "It was so heartening to be heard."
Scott Barhight, a development lawyer, predicted the policy would dramatically change the county's development process. "It will open the floodgate of appeals," he said. The change also allows developers to appeal, Barhight said.
The policy change follows a county Circuit Court decision last month requiring more resident comment in a case involving the UMBC Research Park, and occurs when residents want to appeal several other land-use decisions.
While most of the Development Review Committee's decisions do not prompt controversy, the group sometimes allows developers to apply for building permits over the protests of residents.
For years, the appeals board said it didn't have jurisdiction to hear residents who disagreed with the actions of the committee.
But last week, the board changed its mind.
Holzer said he did not expect a large number of appeals to be filed. "It will probably be a few cases out of a thousand that are worth the appeal," he said.
The change could have a direct impact on several pending cases.
It means that residents who oppose construction of a gymnasium and auditorium on the campus of Beth Tfiloh Community School on Old Court Road can argue that county officials erred by saying the project could be built without a public hearing.
Residents in Long Green Valley will have the chance to air their grievances about the county's decision to build restrooms and a concession stand at a park on Hydes Road.
Members of the Ruxton-Riderwood community can voice their opposition to the expansion of parking lots at the Blakehurst elderly care facility.
Although county officials deny it, Barhight said the development review process will immediately become more legalistic.
"It's going to completely change the way we work," he said.