Lawmakers got an earful on the campaign trail last fall from residents about the hassle of trekking miles away to attend public hearings on proposed residential developments in their neighborhoods.
Now, officials are trying to do something about it.
A bill introduced at this week's Baltimore County Council meeting would tighten requirements calling for such meetings, which allow residents to voice concerns and ask questions, to be close to the neighborhoods the developments will affect.
Current regulations do not specify an exact range about meeting locations, stating only that they must be held "in the vicinity" of proposed developments or in Towson if other meeting sites are unavailable. In one example, Perry Hall residents had to travel to Rosedale for a meeting. In another, Owings Mills residents had to make the trek to Towson.
The legislation, sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of new council members, would require the meetings to be held within three to eight miles of proposed developments, depending on where they fall along the Urban Rural Demarcation Line, the county's boundary for public water and sewer service.
But developers would have more flexibility on the kinds of facilities that can be used for the meetings. Currently, it's schools and libraries; the bill adds community centers and churches.
The meetings allow for input on a proposed development's size and impact on traffic, schools and infrastructure before the plan is submitted for approval. Eleven meetings were held last year.
The bill's sponsors — Republicans Todd Huff and David Marks, and Democrats Vicki Almond and Tom Quirk — said they want to give the public more access to the process. In some instances, meetings have been held more than 10 miles away.
Almond said she and Marks, who is the lead sponsor, realized the need for change through their work as community activists.
"We had seen over the years the different problems of having a community input meeting too far away from the community that's involved. We didn't get the number of people we expected," she said.
"What we're trying to do is open the door a little bit," Huff said.
Quirk added, "I just think it's common sense."
Meg O'Hare, president of the Carney Improvement Association, called the bill "community-friendly."
"Baltimore County is like a series of small towns. You don't want to have a town hall meeting so far from the town that people can't come," she said.
Local business owners will also appreciate the added convenience, said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce.