Harford zoning measure vetoed

Craig says council allowed too much business development, says he seeks compromise

March 03, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

In his first major clash with the County Council since taking office last summer, Harford County Executive David R. Craig vetoed a countywide rezoning bill yesterday that he said allowed too much business development in an area poised for major growth.

The action adds to the fallout since the council adopted the bill last month amid a contentious debate that has politicians suggesting a change in how council members are elected.

In addition to the veto, Craig proposed a change in the county charter that would allow him and the council to negotiate a compromise without restarting the zoning process from scratch, with applications from property owners and hearings.

FOR THE RECORD - Articles in the Maryland section March 3 and in the Harford County section March 5 incorrectly stated that County Executive David R. Craig would seek a change to the county charter in an effort to resolve the dispute over the comprehensive rezoning law that he recently vetoed. In fact, Craig said he would seek revision of the county's zoning code.
Also, a text box that accompanied the article in the Harford section incorrectly described the timeline for that effort. A measure seeking changes to the zoning code was to be introduced after the County Council acted on the veto.
The Sun regrets the errors.

On Feb. 14, the council approved a rezoning package with amendments that reversed dozens of recommendations made by the county's Department of Planning and Zoning and nearly quadrupled the number of business zoning requests that had been approved.

The rezoning process takes place every eight years, allowing property owners to seek changes in land use. With the county expecting a major population boom, Craig said, the amendments hindered the county's ability to plan for that growth.

"I believe what we sent over was a good bill, and the number and nature of changes [in the council's version] were too significant for it to become law," Craig said.

Expected to be squarely in the crosshairs of the new bill are a number of properties along Route 22, a mostly two-lane artery that connects Bel Air and a military base in Aberdeen. Councilman Richard C. Slutzky, a Republican from Aberdeen who proposed a controversial amendment for zoning along the road, said the veto had "everything to do with politics and little to do with good planning."

Slutzky discounted comments by Craig and Council President Robert S. Wagner that council members did not adequately research amendments that did not affect their districts and were open to change after being informed. That notion has been the catalyst behind a bill proposed by Wagner to have the county become the first in the state to switch back to at-large elections.

The veto was applauded by Friends of Harford, a citizen group that monitors growth issues. Many group members petitioned for a referendum of the last rezoning bill in 1998, which ultimately failed.

"[The veto] shows that he has what it takes to seek better solutions," said Judy Blomquist, the group's president. "If they can come up with a clean bill that restores a substantial amount of agricultural land, we could possibly support it."

Under county law, the rezoning process - which began 15 months ago - is supposed to start over from the beginning. But Deputy County Attorney Nancy L. Giorno said the county will seek a change that would allow the process to be resumed as it was before changes were made to the administration's plan.

Landowners would not be able to file for property zoning changes or voice concerns at public hearings again, which raises legal questions, said David K. Bowersox, a Westminster land-use attorney who is not involved in the Harford County dispute.

"They're asking for trouble if they're trying to resurrect the bill but nobody else gets to participate," he said. "When they start to rewrite the rules, that's when they begin to expose themselves to legal challenges."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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