Zoning enters final round

Balto. Co. to hold last hearings, with voting on 570 requests set for September

June 02, 2008|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

Kevin Kamenetz says he has neighbors who haven't spoken to him since the Baltimore County Council last made widespread zoning changes - four years ago.

But he and other county lawmakers say the decisions about land use are among the most important, if not most popular, ones they make.

The final series of public hearings in the current round of requested zoning changes begins today. The yearlong comprehensive zoning map process - known as the CZMP - ends in September when the council votes on the petitions. The process occurs in the county every four years.

"The time for residents to worry about new development is not when a project is submitted for approval but when the underlying zoning is put in place," said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat serving as the council chairman.

About 570 requests for zoning changes are being considered. Most of the zoning changes are sought by developers, property owners and community groups. But some requests come from county planners or the council members themselves.

In some cases, the council members say they submit the requests to identify properties where the zoning merits a discussion in the community and a review by county planning staff.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican, is suggesting zoning changes on all state-owned land, such as schools, in his district, so that if the properties are sold, less development would be possible. Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, submitted properties for zoning changes based on the recommendations of a committee of residents and business leaders. Kamenetz said he uses uniform criteria to determine what properties to submit for zoning changes in his district - a process he says once resulted in rezoning part of his own backyard.

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, an Overlea-Fullerton Democrat, is only council member who has not submitted any properties for rezoning, saying he wants to avoid any conflict since the council members act as the final judges on the land-use issues.

"The goal is to adhere to the highest ethical standards," Kamenetz said.

To avoid the appearance of being influenced by developers or others seeking to win favor, the council passed a nonbinding resolution last year affirming the long-held policy of not accepting contributions during the rezoning process.

One councilman, Kenneth N. Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, accepted donations, according to state campaign finance records. But he says those funds have since been returned. The next finance report is due in October.

The CZMP, which often pits neighbors against developers, began last fall. The Planning Board held a series of public hearings in March - one in each of the seven council districts. The 15-member Planning Board issued its recommendations in May.

Several notable compromises have been struck between developers and residents at odds over proposed zoning changes, according to officials. And several of the Planning Board's findings are contingent upon formal agreements being reached.

"It shows how the community association and property owners can work together," Oliver said.

In most cases, though, the Planning Board's recommendations favor keeping zoning as it is.

That position suited Owings Mills activists who want to preserve the residential zoning on a 55-acre parcel that formerly was part of the Rosewood Center.

But Jim Angelone, president of the Greater Greenspring Association, says he isn't taking the outcome for granted. "It's not a guarantee - it's added pressure on the decision-makers," said Angelone, who is hoping a large, articulate crowd persuades council members to reject the zoning change, proposed by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, that would permit office and commercial buildings.

Council members can reject, accept or modify the recommendations of the Planning Board and staff.

Although many community leaders and land preservationists have prepared their own detailed analysis of the land issues, some say they resort to other tactics when they present their cases to the council.

Corinne Becker's Towson neighborhood opposes a zoning change that would allow an apartment complex to be redeveloped with more units and shops. "I've laid out all the logical reasons," she said. "But at this point, I'm just going to be throwing myself at their mercy."


Zoning hearings

The comprehensive zoning map process hearing schedule:

5th District , which includes the Towson and Perry Hall areas: Today in council chambers.

2nd District, which includes Pikesville, Ruxton and part of Owings Mills: Wednesday at Pikesville High School.

6th District, which includes Overlea and Fullerton: June 10 at Overlea High School.

7th District, which includes the Dundalk area: June 12 at Patapsco High School.

1st District, which includes Catonsville and Arbutus: June 18 at Lansdowne High School.

3rd District, which includes northern Baltimore County, is June 24 at Loch Raven High School.

4th District, which includes Randallstown and Woodlawn, June 26 at New Town High School.

All hearings are at 7 p.m.

More information: www.baltimorecountymd.gov/ Agencies/planning/zoning/ 2008czmp/index.html

Source: Baltimore County government

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