Closing the planning gap

Appointments: Owens' new top officials must tackle problems that need attention now.

February 18, 2000

ANNE ARUNDEL County's new planning chief appears to have all the experience he needs to hit the ground running. He'd better.

Denis D. Canavan, who arrived in Anne Arundel County from Montgomery County earlier this month with a 30-year planning background, stepped into the middle of a development controversy.

Some residents and public officials think Mr. Canavan's predecessors too often allowed developers to build subdivisions that the county code would prohibit. One example is an 18-home Annapolis subdivision that went forward when county planners excused the developer from paying for road improvements.

The county has a history of granting waivers from the subdivision code.

Officials granted 198 waivers in County Executive Janet S. Owens' first year in office. Under predecessor John G. Gary, the county averaged 204 waivers a year.

County council members are threatening a waiver moratorium. That's not a good solution. Mr. Canavan must convince lawmakers that, under his leadership, the county will be judicious when making exceptions.

But this is just one of the tasks that Mr. Canavan and another new appointee, Walter N. Chitwood III, face as the new leaders of Anne Arundel's planning and permitting processes. The county is in the midst of constructing its important small-areas development plans, which are shaping specific neighborhoods.

Mr. Chitwood, a former Anne Arundel County and Annapolis aide, arrives next week to take over permitting, environmental services and code enforcement.

The appointments fill a gaping void in the Owens administration, which otherwise has done well.

Ms. Owens' appointees must deal with the waiver issue and speed a sluggish permit process to satisfy business needs while giving the public a fair chance to participate in development decisions.

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