Development process likely to be revised

Balto. County Council wants system to promote creativity, high quality

April 05, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council is likely to revamp today a rarely used development process that was meant to encourage creative, high-quality development.

One of the most complicated pieces of legislation the council has attempted in years, the measure would also overhaul the way construction of assisted-living facilities is approved in the county.

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, the Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat who wrote the bill, said he has seen a great need for more housing for the elderly in the county. He believes that greater use of the "planned unit development" process - an alternative development approval process that allows the builder greater flexibility - could encourage better development while allowing communities more opportunity to influence what gets built.

"The PUD process has been in existence for 20 years, and in 20 years we have only had essentially 20 applicants make use of it," Kamenetz said. "So that says to me that it's not working as effectively as it could."

All six other councilmen have signed on as co-sponsors or indicated their intention to support the measure.

Under the proposed process, a developer would bring a concept plan to the County Council to be considered as a PUD. If the council supports consideration, the proposal would move to the Planning Board for community input and refinement.

The Planning Board would have the authority to approve, deny or set conditions on the plan. Any approval would be subject to final review by the council. Opponents to an approval from the Planning Board would also be able to appeal to the county's zoning commissioner.

Kamenetz said one of the chief benefits of the bill would be moving most of the approval process away from zoning commissioner hearings, which are formal and litigious, to Planning Board meetings, where he said a more community-sensitive give-and-take could occur.

Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat and former chairman of the 15-member Planning Board, said the board is ideally suited for such a role.

"This gives them the authority to do what I think they should have been doing all along," Oliver said. "You've got that open discussion and no hard yes or no. It's a good dialogue between the Planning Board, the developer and the citizens of the county."

The bill comes at a time of intense discussion about the county's development process. Not only is the quadrennial rezoning cycle under way, but Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder recently proposed changes to the law limiting building near crowded schools, and County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has made new redevelopment regulations the centerpiece of his administration.

The proposals by Smith and Kamenetz are designed with similar goals - more creative development with greater community input. Although the two men have been at odds at times in the past 18 months, Kamenetz and Smith administration officials say they see the ideas as complementary.

The small group of community activists who intensely watch county development was initially wary of the Kamenetz proposal. However, three of the activists, Dick Parsons of West Towson, Donna Spicer of Loch Raven and Virginia Barnhart, a former county attorney from Wiltondale, consulted with Kamenetz and offered a series of amendments, many of which he accepted.

A provision of the bill that drew their attention would allow developers of housing for the elderly to get more units per acre if they make some of them available for moderate-income residents. The group sought a way to make sure developers wouldn't take the density bonuses but later change the units back to market rate.

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