Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. will launch a series of meetings tonight in an aggressive effort to seek comment on and win support for redevelopment regulations that have become the centerpiece of his administration.
Four meetings have been scheduled -- two today, and one each on Monday and Tuesday -- on the executive's plan to give developers greater flexibility and quicker approvals for mixed-use projects in older communities. The proposal would bring community members and county planners into the early stages of the process, giving them more of a role in shaping the projects.
The idea met with widespread interest when Smith announced it in November, but the draft of enabling legislation that he released a few weeks later rankled many community leaders, who said its language would subtly cut them out of the process and tip the advantage to developers.
While acknowledging that he didn't receive enough input before drafting the bill and that some of its details were flawed, Smith plans to present a new version to the Planning Board on Jan. 15, two days after the final meeting. The comments from the four meetings he and his staff will attend in the next week and the dozens of e-mails and letters they have received will be incorporated into that presentation, which will outline how his thinking on the bill has evolved over the last month.
"The county executive is going to outline not only his priorities for the legislation but some of the good ideas that he has heard from the community, and I'm sure he may underscore some ideas he heard from community members that he disagrees with," said Smith's spokesman, Damian O'Doherty. "We stood by this bill in the beginning, and we're going to stand by it as community members seek to improve it."
Smith has said that with so little available land left for new development in the county, it is critical to persuade developers to revamp the county's aging commercial centers while giving communities a greater stake in shaping their futures.
Response to the idea has been positive -- community leaders across the county have said they want this kind of development in their neighborhoods. But in a county where mistrust of the development process runs deep, the details of Smith's plan have undergone intense scrutiny.
Ruth Baisden, president of the Greater Parkville Community Council, which will meet tonight with Deputy Planning Director Jeff Long, said her board of directors has gone through the proposed legislation and highlighted several areas of concern. In particular, members have questions about who will be allowed to participate in the intensive planning process Smith envisions, how they will know when consensus on a project has been reached, and how the appeals process will work.
"There are some things we think are beneficial in the legislation, but there are some things we have great concern about," she said.
After he gives his presentation on next week, Smith will ask the Planning Board to form an advisory committee to study his proposal in detail, hold public hearings and recommend changes. The committee will file a report with the Planning Board, which will forward revised legislation to the County Council for consideration.
Jane Willeboordse, executive director of the Dundalk Renaissance Corp., a nonprofit group that was founded to carry out a comprehensive redevelopment plan that Dundalk created two years ago, said she has pored over the legislation and has drafted a chart of pluses and minuses. But she said her biggest concern is making sure Dundalk is picked as a site for one of the pilot redevelopment projects.
7 p.m. today, Morningside Assisted Living Facility, 8800 Old Harford Road, Parkville.
7:30 p.m. today, Room 401 of the Community College Building of the Community College of Baltimore County, 7200 Sollers Point Road, Dundalk.
7 p.m. Monday, Lansdowne High School library, 3800 Hollins Ferry Road.
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Golden Dragon Restaurant, 8109 Liberty Road, Milford Mill.
County Executive James T. Smith Jr. will attend the meetings in Dundalk, Lansdowne and Milford Mill.