County Council weighs amendments to proposed revitalization program

Members want bigger role, retain zoning authority

December 01, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council is weighing proposals to give its members a greater role in County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s planned program to encourage the revitalization of older neighborhoods

The proposed amendments to a bill detailing Smith's "renaissance" plan would give council members a say over financial incentives offered to developers and allow them to limit what can be built on land that would be designated for the program.

The amendments also would more narrowly define which community members would be allowed to take part in a process designed to bypass zoning and development review procedures in favor of community meetings with developers.

The changes, which were detailed during the council's work session yesterday, came out of council members' concerns and through their talks with community members interested in the legislation, said Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat.

Most importantly for the council, the proposed amendments would "enable us to still retain much of our zoning authority because we are the final zoning decision-maker," he said.

With a vote on the bill scheduled Monday, council members used yesterday's work session to hear lingering concerns from community members - and to question county officials on the specifics of the program.

Community leaders said they worry that they would not have input on proposed projects early enough in the process, that there would be no avenue to appeal decisions, and that government employees and developers will have too much influence - at the expense of residents.

"We want to make sure the bill ... safeguards the interests of the communities and the businesses," said Steve Whisler, president of the Westview Park Improvement and Civic Association in Catonsville after the work session.

If approved, the bill would allow each council member to designate an older area in his district for "renaissance opportunity."

Developers whose projects are approved to go through the new process could bypass the property's existing zoning and the traditional development route by instead putting their proposals up to intensive community scrutiny in meetings called "charettes."

Approvals would be reached by consensus - defined as at least 80 percent of community participants who take part.

But the bill, a modified version of the plan originally presented by Smith a year ago, left council members with virtually no role in the process once they determine their "renaissance opportunity" areas.

The amendments would add a council member's "designee" to the review process, would allow the council to limit the uses permitted in the opportunity areas, and would give members an opportunity to review and approve any financial incentives offered to developers.

The proposed changes would also limit community participants in the process to those who live, own property or run a business within five miles of the proposed project; allow those involved to vote for or against the project by proxy; and limit voting eligibility to community members who attend two or more meetings.

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