Gardina proposal raises questions

Balto. Co. councilman's moratorium plan gets vote Monday, but colleagues balking

November 18, 2005|By JOSH MITCHELL AND LAURA BARNHARDT | JOSH MITCHELL AND LAURA BARNHARDT,SUN REPORTERS

With a Towson community in an uproar over the idea of a housing development on land owned by a neighboring country club, a Baltimore County councilman is calling for a timeout -- proposing a building moratorium on an area less than 1 square mile in size.

In years past, the County Council went along with freezes on development in particular communities to address such problems as failed septic systems or to plan for growth. But as the most recent proposal heads to a vote early next week, some councilmen say they are increasingly squeamish about how the tactic is being used.

They are balking at the notion that a moratorium could be designed primarily to delay a specific project.

When Councilman Vincent J. Gardina promoted his proposed yearlong moratorium in the Idlewylde community this week as a way to preserve open space at the Country Club of Maryland, a colleague had a quick answer.

"Mr. Gardina," said Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, "I think you have just set us up for a lawsuit by your comments."

Gardina, a Perry Hall-Towson Democrat, said he understands the rationale against using moratoriums in the way he proposes. But he said "we have no other tools" to address the concerns of neighbors while they look for ways to save club-owned land from development.

The councilman and other elected officials are lobbying the state for money to offer the country club for its development rights.

Other Maryland counties have imposed wide-ranging building freezes to address issues such as crowded schools and drainage problems. But, in recent years, Baltimore County has approved moratoriums for limited areas.

The first such moratorium was imposed in 1994, in the Honeygo area of White Marsh, so that the county could address crowded roads and sewerage issues, said Thomas J. Peddicord Jr., the council secretary.

In 1999, moratoriums were imposed in areas of eastern Baltimore County to address sewerage and septic issues.

Later that year, a moratorium was imposed in south Perry Hall/White Marsh for a different purpose: to address smaller projects in an established community.

Since September, the council has unanimously imposed a one-year moratorium for the Carney and Cub Hill areas and extended a moratorium in Middle River, for the same purpose.

Moratoriums are one of the "few tools that communities have to keep their communities nice places to live" and promote development that "isn't so haphazard," said Meg O'Hare, president of the Carney Improvement Association.

Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder proposed another moratorium, in the Overlea/Fullerton area, and he and Gardina proposed one for Parkville and another area of Carney, to give those communities time to create growth plans and avoid piecemeal development.

"It's the only tool that a councilman has in their area to hold the administration's feet to the fire as far as being able to do infrastructure improvements that are needed," said Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat.

He said he was shocked last week when both measures failed, 4-3.

Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley voted against the bills. He said he previously voted for moratoriums in districts other than his own as "councilmanic courtesy," but that Gardina's proposal for the Idlewylde area, announced a month earlier, "has made me stop and think" about how moratoriums are being used.

Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, and other council members say that the panel must be careful not to infringe on the rights of property owners. They point out that the council's principal role in regulating growth is to assign zoning classifications for individual properties once every four years.

"By law, we are not involved in the development process," Kamenetz, a Ruxton-Pikesville Democrat, said at a council work session Tuesday. "Nor is it any of our business what a private property owner wants to do with their land."

The administration of County Executive James T. Smith Jr. is not a fan of the moratoriums.

"We are not crazy about attempts to subvert the comprehensive zoning map process, because that process is clear," said Donald I. Mohler, spokesman for the county executive. "It serves the county well."

The proposed moratorium for Idlewylde, up for a council vote Monday, would apply to a swath of land that includes the Country Club of Maryland, where a developer plans to build 56 duplex houses on 16 acres.

Gardina said he might amend the bill to shorten it to four months.

Lawrence E. Schmidt, a former zoning commissioner who is now an attorney representing the country club, said the moratorium would have no effect, because at the rate of the typical development process, no building permits are likely to be issued for several months.

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