Planning Board is considering new rules

But at hearing, members of public urge caution

May 16, 2007|by a sun reporter

The Planning Board is considering enacting a series of proposals that would alter, in some cases significantly, how it functions.

Many of the changes represent little more than housecleaning, but several members of the public urged the board to proceed cautiously.

"You are the voice and face of the public," said Alan Klein, a founder of the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown.

While several proposed revisions were endorsed by the public during a hearing last week, other changes raised concerns.

Klein said it is vital that the board not embrace revisions that make it more difficult for people to challenge proposed development and zoning changes.

Lloyd Knowles, a former member of the board and County Council, said the changes should be deferred until others have reviewed them.

The board in November initiated the examination of its rules and procedures, and the proposed changes were developed by the county Office of Law.

Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, said the intent is to obtain "greater clarity on a number of points," and to have conformity in the board's policies with those of the Board of Appeals and Zoning Board.

"It appears that the Office of Law believes the problem is the community has been too involved," Klein said.

The most troubling changes, according to those who testified, include:

Eliminating the right of the public at a Planning Board hearing to question witnesses for a developer or person seeking approval of a project or zoning change.

Reducing to 30 days the time in which the board could revise a decision if "fraud, mistake or irregularity" is later known or suspected.

Ending the board's biweekly meetings and instead scheduling them as needed.

Grace Kubofcik, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Howard County Inc., said that while her organization recognizes the need for flexibility, it favors "consistent meeting days and times to better serve parties of interest and the public."

She also said the League of Women Voters believes that any individual recognized by the board during a hearing "should have the right to question a petitioner's witness."

Knowles said that "most of the changes are going in the wrong direction," and he said the board should ensure a "much more open and public process."

The five-member board has not approved any changes. Chairwoman Tammy J. Citara-Manis said public comment on the revisions will be accepted until June 21, when the board is scheduled to discuss what, if any, changes to accept.

The public, she said, may e-mail comments to: lkenney@howard countymd.gov.

The board also approved two site development plans for construction of 200 housing units.

The first is for 66 attached condominiums at Gateway Overlook, the 123-acre retail and residential complex bounded by Route 175, Route 108, Lake Brown Road and Old Waterloo Road.

The homes will by built by Ryland Group Inc.

Gateway Overlook will also include a unit of Costco Wholesale Corp., Lowe's Cos. Inc., Best Buy Co. Inc., Trader Joe's, the specialty market, and several restaurants and other retail shops.

Also approved was the plan for 144 condominium units at Maple Lawn, Maryland, the luxury, mixed-use community in Fulton.

Those units will be built by Bozzuto Homes Inc.

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