The Baltimore County Council voted last night to fine-tune restrictions on residential development that critics say were passed too quickly and with too little public comment.
Council members said they were fixing technical problems created by last-minute amendments introduced when the regulations were approved last month. But critics, still angry at the lack of public input into council redistricting, say the fixes wouldn't have been necessary if the council had acted more deliberately.
"It seems like the last couple of years, there's been a lot - whether it's bravery or stupidity - of leaving out the process," said Donna Spicer, former chairwoman of the Community Conservation Action Group, a countywide organization.
The development standards were originally to apply to the South Perry Hall/White Marsh area, and were said to have the support of residents there. But many of those residents say the regulations don't go far enough.
"There are still so many loopholes there for the developers to use, and you know they'll use them," said Linda L. Rosier, who lives on White Marsh Road.
The bill introduced last month was designed to impose stricter standards for residential development by such measures as requiring more open space, discouraging construction of houses whose backs face the street and reducing the number of cul-de-sacs.
Joe Dieter, a resident of the South Perry Hall/White Marsh area, said the community was more concerned with the need to make road and bridge improvements before the area is developed than the need for new design standards.
Two petitions, each signed by more than 250 people, called for a building moratorium pending specific infrastructure improvements. None of the improvements has been made, Dieter said.
"It was like a hush-rush to get these things through, so it's only to the satisfaction of the zoning lawyers," he said.
Residents weren't the only ones who were upset. Arnold Jablon, the director of permits and development management, said last-minute amendments introduced by Councilman Kevin Kamenetz making the regulations mandatory and applying them countywide would wreak havoc with the development process.
Jablon warned in a memo to council members that the law would create a muddled system of appeals that would be expensive for developers and residents alike. County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger returned the bill unsigned.
The bill approved last night addresses Jablon's objections by clarifying the role of the planning director and the appeals process for developers and community groups. It does not substantively change the content of the original bill.
Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican who opposed Kamenetz's amendments, said that making the standards countywide and mandatory were such major changes that they should have been introduced as a separate bill with proper notice and public hearings.
"Sometimes issues have unintended consequences like this one, and this I suspect would have been caught if it had gone through a more forward process," Skinner said yesterday.
Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, defended his amendments and said the "fine-tuning" last night was a normal part of the legislative process.
"My objective was to ensure that we have quality design standards, not just for the new growth areas but for all communities countywide," he said.