Owens highly critical of small-area planning, calls goals `unrealistic'

County Council acts to keep committees from changing zoning

Effort seen as anti-growth

October 03, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County's beleaguered community-based effort to draft a land-use and development plan hit another bump yesterday when County Executive Janet S. Owens called the grass-roots process "flawed" and its goals "unrealistic."

Owens, who inherited the Small Area Planning process when she defeated former County Executive John G. Gary in 1998, made the comments after a County Council meeting during which members also were critical of the process.

"It's a very difficult process to manage," said Owens. "One serious flaw is that you have these groups getting into issues of zoning, and that's what has resulted in the neighbor-vs.-neighbor situations we've seen in places."

Owens said that the three small-area plans adopted by the council so far are unrealistic because they include items such as libraries and parks that may never receive funding.

Each committee included local residents who were asked to draft plans for their communities. In addition to the adopted plans, there are 13 others at various stages of readiness. Plans for Broadneck and Severna Park are up next for review and adoption.

Owens said that some plans failed to balance land preservation efforts with development and economic growth - a situation that could be sending the wrong message to business owners.

"That's going to be a struggle and a battle for the next 20 years," said Owens, referring to the incompatibility of some small-area plans with growth that could build the county's commercial tax base - a tax base that lags behind those of Prince George's, Baltimore and Howard counties.

Council members have also expressed concern at the way the planning process has proceeded. The council tried to correct the situation Monday, stripping away some zoning powers formerly extended to planning committees.

Council member John J. Klocko III, a Crofton Republican whose district has seen three small-area plans adopted - one each for Crownsville, Crofton and Deale - said yesterday that he hoped the change would take some of the politics out of the process.

"I think the message is exceedingly clear that the County Council doesn't want to see specific zoning recommendations in the [small-area] plans," said Klocko.

Still, the rules that govern the grass-roots planning process are vague.

Members of committees and the county's Office of Planning and Zoning differ on what role the committees are supposed to play in the difficult business of comprehensive re-rezoning - the process of re-evaluating how land should be zoned.

Debi Osborne, a Tracy's Landing resident who headed up a small-area planning group in South County and whose presentation at Monday's meeting led the council to adopt the new zoning rule, said her group was told that it wasn't allowed to make specific zoning changes.

Still, members were encouraged to work with county staff to make sure zoning changes met community needs, she said.

Osborne said yesterday that she hopes the council's decision to take zoning out of the hands of committee members doesn't mean that they won't be allowed to make recommendations.

"I hope there's still room for guidance," said Osborne.

Ron Wolf, a Deale resident who headed the Deale and Shady Side small-area planning committee, said his group understood that they were supposed to help set zoning.

He said that the county's 1997 general development plan, the umbrella zoning document, states that committees should have a say in zoning.

"This is an attempt to defang the small-area planning committees," he said.

Rich Josephson, county long-range planning administrator, said that as the planning process evolved, it became clear that committee members should work with staff to set zoning changes.

"When we started the process, the committees weren't asked to look at zoning at all," he said. "But as we went on, it became difficult to talk about land use without talking about zoning."

Josephson said that the work of the committees and the staff should remain collaborative.

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