Code, planning agency divided

Owens chooses 2 directors, promises end to inconsistencies

January 09, 2000|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

After more than a year of delays, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has split the Department of Planning and Code Enforcement into two departments and named directors for each, promising an end to bureaucratic slowdowns and inconsistent enforcement.

Developers hailed as a victory the appointment of Walter Chitwood, 51, who was chief administrative officer under Republican County Executives Robert R. Neall and Robert A. Pascal.

Since September 1998, when he left his last job as city administrator in Annapolis, Chitwood has worked for Pascal's development company as project manager building marinas and subdivisions on the Eastern Shore.

Owens announced Friday that Chitwood will be director of the code enforcement department, overseeing the granting of permits and environmental services. That raised concerns with environmentalists and activists who have spent years battling previous administrations over the perception that they seemed to fling the door wide open for developers.

"It could be worrisome in that the person in the position has got to be independent," said Marcia Drenzyk, a north county activist who has galvanized residents to push for clean government. "I would hope the new person in that job in particular will be objective and not beholden to anyone, and we will have to wait and see if that happens."

Denis D. Canavan, 51, the Montgomery County master planner, will head the new planning department, overseeing zoning and long-range planning issues.

Each appointee will earn $86,511 a year.

`Core group'

They and John M. Brusnighan, director of the Department of Public Works, will form a "core group" and will answer directly to Owens, she said.

The core group used to answer to the county land-use officer. Thomas C. Andrews left that post in November, and Owens said yesterday that she is eliminating it.

The two departments were combined in 1993 by Neall who, facing a recession and lack of funds, said he had to shrink the county government. In the ensuing months, he laid off more than 100 county workers and eliminated six departments, including the combining of the planning and code enforcement departments.

Chitwood, who worked for the county at the time, retained his job when Neall appointed him the head of central services.

Chitwood said yesterday that he didn't participate in the consolidation of the departments but remembers it well.

"Initially, it functioned reasonably well," he said. "But it was done because of budget constraints, and what we need to do now is make sure the organization is working for the county, because the employees are out there working hard trying to make sure the organization is working for the public."

Chitwood said it is often difficult to find common ground between developers and residents, "two different community groups with opposing or conflicting interests." Land-use decisions ultimately will be decided by the planning side under Canavan, he said.

Canavan brings 20 years of county government experience to the job. During those years in the Montgomery County planning department, Canavan helped put together the county's agricultural and rural open space program and its master development plan, and supervised the department's staff on zoning applications and review of the county's zoning ordinance.

Anne Arundel's Planning and Code Enforcement Department has long been the target of complaints by developers and residents seeking everything from deck permits to zoning changes. The department would send applicants through a confusing set of requirements, only to issue more requirements later, many complained. The department, they said, lacked consistent enforcement when there were violations and often gave preferential treatment to applicants with connections.

The director's position had been vacant since Steven R. Cover left for the private sector more than a year ago.

Owens relieved

Owens said yesterday that she was relieved to have filled the posts. She said the only concern is that Chitwood stay around long enough to help turn around the department, which she said is the source of 90 percent of the complaints she receives.

Chitwood, though known to toil long hours into the night working to reinvigorate ailing departments, has left some posts after a short time. In 1994, he was an assistant superintendent of schools for less than a month, and he left the job with the city of Annapolis in 1998 after eight months.

"It is the breadth of their experiences that made them both so qualified," she said. "We can finally move forward and see if in that department we have made things unnecessarily complex."

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