Smith revitalization proposal faces delay

Balto. Co. council wants to tackle budget, rezoning before executive's bill

April 21, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. rushed to get his revitalization plan for older communities ready by this spring, but the sense of urgency apparently didn't make it to the County Council, which appears unlikely to consider the measure for months.

After agreeing last winter to solicit more public input on his signature proposal, Smith has pushed his plan through at the county government equivalent of warp speed -- four advisory committee meetings in a month, then, last week, a Planning Board hearing, debate and vote in less than 90 minutes.

The proposal landed on Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley's desk in the county's old courthouse yesterday. Moxley said the council will give it the attention it deserves -- just not right away.

"I'd like to get to it in September," he said, noting that the council will be busy with budget hearings and the hundreds of issues in the county's quadrennial rezoning process.

Smith's plan calls for greater flexibility for developers in older communities in exchange for giving residents veto power over what gets built.

Smith's efforts on this bill have not reignited the open hostility that he and the council displayed at times last year over his nominees for top county jobs. Although councilmen have not criticized the proposal, they and the executive are evidently still not working in concert.

Smith request

Smith has asked Moxley to move up the hearings on the bill so it can be considered early this summer, said his spokeswoman, Tori Leonard.

"He wants the renaissance of Baltimore County to proceed as soon as possible," Leonard said.

But some councilmen said yesterday they don't see any reason to act quickly.

"No, not at all," said T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican. "And I don't think that any consensus has been built up about the bill within the council and within the county."

The rush and delay is not good for residents who spent hours poring over the bill, attending meetings and testifying at hearings, said Donna Spicer, a Loch Raven community activist who has followed the proposal closely.

"Fast-tracking something to get it out there does not necessarily give time and consideration for a good, thoughtful process," she said. "Slowing something down to a crawl does not bring thoughtful process to it either. The people who are involved tend to lose interest or start nit-picking to death."

Tom Toporovich, a Smith backer who was secretary to the council for 22 years, said the council could handle the bill more quickly than it plans to, "but I don't think it's necessarily stalling."

"The budget is such an encompassing thing that there's hardly room for anything else of major consequence," he said.

Council dissenter

The council is not unanimous in believing the bill should be postponed. Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall-Towson Democrat, said it's "absolutely ridiculous" to hold off for so long.

"We pass bills that have had a lot less scrutiny than this bill in a shorter time," he said. "The bill should be put on the agenda."

This month, the council passed a bill overhauling the "planned unit development" approval process, which is in some ways similar to Smith's proposal. It also allows developers greater flexibility but it does not revolve around the intensive community planning meetings, known as "charettes," that Smith is proposing.

The planned unit development bill, one of the most complex pieces of legislation the council has considered in years, was passed five weeks after it was introduced with no public hearing other than the council's regular work session.

Members of the advisory committee and others who have followed Smith's proposal had mixed reactions to the delay.

One of the group's conclusions was that without more incentives, developers wouldn't take advantage of the process. Some members said yesterday that the delay could be a useful opportunity for Smith to develop such plans.

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