Smith's bill to get earlier consideration

Council to address plan to revitalize next month

April 29, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council will begin its consideration of County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s commercial revitalization initiative in May, four months sooner than members had originally planned.

Council members have agreed to hold a public hearing on the bill, which is Smith's first major legislative initiative, after their May 17 meeting.

Smith has been pushing the measure, designed to provide builders with more flexibility in revitalization projects while affording residents more meaningful input, since November. But a series of input meetings and consideration by an advisory group and the Planning Board delayed the bill, which arrived at the council last week.

Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said initially that the council would not likely address the bill until September because of county budget hearings this month and next, the hundreds of requests in the quadrennial rezoning process and a general aversion to handling substantive legislation over the summer, when many residents are away.

But Councilmen Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall-Towson Democrat, and John A. Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, said they wanted to act more quickly. Dundalk community activists have been instrumental in crafting the bill, and Olszewski said this week that he thinks it is important legislation that will help older neighborhoods.

Moxley agreed to move the legislation up on the agenda.

"I would like to hear what folks have to say and, if possible and depending on what my colleagues want, move forward with it," Moxley said.

The new schedule for the bill could result in a vote in July, but councilmen said they want to hear input from the public before deciding when to introduce the bill.

The county executive's bill, which would free developers from many conventional zoning laws in exchange for giving community members effective veto power over what gets built, met with widespread interest when it was first introduced. However, the details of Smith's initial proposal sparked concern from activists around the county who worried that it would cut out participation by community associations.

The version of the bill the County Council is being asked to consider reflects months of additional work by an advisory panel, Planning Board members and the county's Planning Department staff. Moxley said the timing of a vote will likely depend on whether council members believe the bill needs significant amendments.

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