Residents give plan mixed reception

Balto. County would let developers sidestep rules in reviving older areas

May 18, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s signature plan for new redevelopment regulations received a mixed reception at a County Council hearing last night, with many community leaders praising its intent but some questioning whether the latest draft addresses the concerns of an advisory group that studied the proposal.

Several residents spoke wholeheartedly in favor of the plan, one opposed it entirely as needless bureaucratic gibberish, and the rest of the 20 people who spoke said they like Smith's idea but worry about the details.

"I think what we heard from everybody, including the opponents, is there is a need out there and they want to see something passed," said Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat. "Their big concern is to make sure we do it right."

Smith's plan would allow developers to sidestep zoning and other development requirements in older commercial strips if they agree to a process in which they work with residents and county government staff in a series of intensive planning meetings, known as "charettes." Developers would not be able to get building approval under Smith's proposal unless they come to "consensus" with residents and county staff over a project's design.

But some who spoke last night questioned the definition of "consensus" in Smith's proposal as "general agreement not requiring unanimity." Virginia W. Barnhart, a community activist from Wiltondale, said that could be interpreted as a simple majority, not an overwhelming sentiment.

She and others also said that the bill does not well define who would have a role in determining consensus. As written, the bill could exclude businesses, community associations and other organizations from playing a role, said Dick Parsons, a West Towson community activist.

Barnhart, who served as county attorney in the Ruppersberger administration and on the advisory panel that studied the proposal, also questioned provisions of the bill that exempt developments from rules preventing them from overtaxing schools, roads, sewer systems and water supplies.

Those who spoke most strongly in favor of the bill emphasized the need to spur redevelopment in older communities. They also reiterated that the bill is a pilot program that would only allow the proposed process to take place in areas of the county that councilmen designate.

"Only if you want it will renaissance redevelopment come to your community," said Pete Dimitriades, chairman of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors' political affairs committee.

Dan Rosen, a community activist from Academy Heights who served on the advisory panel, said that without Smith's proposed process, the only development that communities like his see are self-storage facilities and drugstores. Bookstores, restaurants and the other things that families want go somewhere else, he said.

"I think there's a belief in the county and in the metro area that the future lies somewhere else than in the older areas of Baltimore County," Rosen said. "This bill seeks to rectify that."

Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said he thinks the council shouldn't rush to consider the bill.

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