Planning board seeks more input on changes

Development reforms not enough, activists say

January 04, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Community activists persuaded the Baltimore County Planning Board last night to seek more discussion on changes to the development process by arguing the changes would limit public comment.

After major developments, including a Wal-Mart in Bowleys Quarters, were approved without the standard public hearings, the County Council last spring asked the planning board to study ways to ensure that developments are put to public scrutiny and that approval be subject to appeal.

A draft report of recommendations from that study calls for the creation of an easy-to-use guidebook for the public to understand the development and appeals processes; for public posting of proposed residential developments too small to trigger public hearings; and for changes to development plans approved under old rules to be considered under the new procedures.

But community activists who spoke at the planning board's meeting said the draft doesn't go far enough.

Carol Shaw, a member of the advisory board formed to study the issue, said other changes proposed in the report submitted to the planning panel are cosmetic and could be construed to limit residents' rights to appeal development approvals.

The Wal-Mart was approved under a limited exemption to the normal development process for what the director of Development and Permits Management deems to be "minor developments." The draft wouldn't further define "minor," and it appears to exclude the possibility of a community appeal to such a decision, Shaw said.

"This is all the worse because the advisory board discussed all of these issues in depth - the need for definitions, the need for more public participation with regard to specific limited exemptions and especially, as far as the community members were concerned, the need for an appeals process that has some degree of credibility," Shaw said.

The draft spells out the right to appeal a limited exemption for a minor change to an already approved plan but does not address any other kind of appeal.

The Planning Board did not schedule a vote on the draft and asked the advisory board to meet and discuss the issues again.

The board also delayed action on a community plan for the Kenilworth Drive area of Towson. A last-minute amendment to the plan forwarded by the Planning Department would have excised any mention of community opposition to the expansion of the Baltimore County Detention Center.

Arthur N. Rogers III, a planning board member from Towson, succeeded in tabling the measure until the committee that drafted the plan had a chance to review the amendment.

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