Smith agrees to more public input into his redevelopment proposal

Balto. County executive OKs additional meetings

December 17, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Amid demands from community leaders for more input into his redevelopment bill, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. agreed last night to slow down the process, hold a series of public meetings and establish an advisory group to study possible amendments.

Seeking to solidify support for the bill, Smith held an open house in his office and set out a new timetable that would get legislation to the County Council in April and involve more residents than were consulted by the internal committee Smith used to craft his plan.

"I really thought we did more community outreach and business outreach initially -- they obviously didn't reach as many people as I thought they did," Smith said. "I just want people to participate."

Smith has proposed a bill that would allow developers greater flexibility and a streamlined timetable for redevelopment projects in "renaissance opportunity districts" in older commercial areas. In exchange, community members would be given more input at the beginning of the development process.

Although the idea has met with widespread interest from community activists, many have objected to the details and to their lack of input in the drafting of the proposal.

Last night, Smith was clearly seeking to send the message to residents that he is open to input. Hanging in his office were 15 poster board signs reading "Open," "Draft," "Inclusive," "Win-win" and "Government without walls."

The 65 community activists, lawyers, architects and others who attended the meeting seemed less interested in discussing Smith's plan for input than in pointing to concerns with the bill.

Activists raised concerns about which areas will be designated renaissance sites, how consensus will be defined in the extensive public input meetings Smith envisions as part of the redevelopment process, how historic preservation will be handled and other issues.

Smith's new timeline calls for the executive to hold an input meeting in Dundalk on Jan. 8 while senior members of his staff hold another in Parkville. The executive would hold another meeting in Randallstown five days later.

Under Smith's new timeline, the Planning Board will hold a hearing on the bill Jan. 15, after which it will establish an advisory committee of community activists, developers and planning board members.

That group will meet at least three times by Feb. 26 and release its proposed amendments by March 10. Eight days later, the Planning Board will hold another hearing on the legislation and proposed amendments. Then it will send its recommendations to the County Council.

"It seems feasible," said Neville Jacobs, president of the Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition. "I think it's possible. I'm optimistic, but there's a lot of work to be done."

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