County executive will present revised plan for redevelopment

January 15, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

After weeks of debate, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. plans to present his proposal for redeveloping older commercial properties to the Planning Board today and let the board decide whether or how it needs to be revised.

The executive has held four public meetings over the past week to solicit recommendations on the legislation, a top priority for his administration.

"I'm trying to make sure all the input I get is considered," Smith said yesterday. "This is a more open process."

The legislation, the details of which were criticized by many community leaders when it was proposed in November, is designed to speed redevelopment of run-down commercial areas, such as old shopping centers, while giving community members a greater say in what gets built.

Critics objected to an early draft of the legislation that would have excluded community organizations from intensive planning meetings with developers. They also complained that conflicting versions of the legislation were being circulated.

Smith said yesterday that he now believes there should be no limits on who participates in the planning meetings; that the legislation needs to define clearly what constitutes a consensus between the community and the developer; that the time frame for the planning meetings needs to be examined; and that the plan to give a committee of county department heads power to approve projects should be reconsidered.

He said he will also suggest the Planning Board make the bill less focused on traditional, Main Street-style redevelopment projects and will relay citizens' concerns about the proposed $1,000 appeal fee.

"I'm really excited about all the input," Smith said. "People want these. People want this kind of development in their communities."

Under Smith's proposal, developers would be freed from zoning and other regulations for projects in certain older communities if they agree to engage in planning meetings with community members and county officials. The plan would effectively give citizens veto power over developers' plans.

Smith said he will ask the Planning Board to establish an advisory committee to study the proposal in detail and make recommendations.

He said he suggested H. Edward Parker Jr., a planning board member and key participant in Dundalk's recent revitalization efforts, as chairman of the committee.

Smith will make his presentation to the Planning Board at 4:30 p.m. A public hearing will follow at 6:30 p.m.

Theresa Lowry, a Lansdowne community activist who attended one of Smith's meetings this week, said she was impressed with the executive's willingness to change his proposal.

"He seems to be opening his ears," she said. "When he first started off, I think his advisors had led him in the wrong kind of pace, and he seems to have mellowed down. He seems to be thinking and listening at the same time."

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