PUD process needs improvement, not protection

Letter to the editor

July 25, 2011

The shortcoming of current zoning laws are well known and they often prohibit good development.

No wonder, then, that planned unit developments (PUDs) have become a popular method to get around what the basic zoning code would require ("County Council to consider time limit for revoking planned unit development," Catonsville Times, June 15).

PUDs were initially a tool to allow better quality development by trading setback, density and height requirements within a larger area, consisting of a number of parcels possibly even within different zoning classes.

The price for a PUD was stricter oversight and more community participation.

However, over time PUDs have degenerated both in Baltimore City and in Baltimore County to be a process giving developers and land owners higher yields on their land with little in return. They are frequently applied even for the tiniest specks of land.

The Baltimore County requirement for a "community benefit" allows PUD applicants to essentially bribe the community with promises, which might have nothing at all to do with the quality of the proposed development.

Kudos to County Councilman Tom Quirk for throwing a wrench at this type of cozy deal making in the Thistle Road PUD.

In this case, a group of "workforce" townhouses is proposed in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Catonsville and Ellicott City, at the entry of an access road into the Patapsco River valley.

On Thistle Road, you could be somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains — so windy, steep, wooded and beautiful it is.

This, of course, means that any development at its entry point needs to be equally beautiful or that there should be none at all.

The existing zoning for "major business" there is even more misguided.

PUD rules should be tightened by the county to truly enable quality development. (The city is comprehensively overhauling its entire zoning thicket.)

It would be wonderful if a reformed county PUD regulation could produce a trailblazing best practice development, such as Anneslie or Stoneleigh were in their days, instead of adding uninspired run-of-the-mill development.

Unfortunately, this has already been for too long the prevailing pattern in the county.

Tom Quirk's County Council colleagues would be well advised to work on reforming the PUD laws instead of protecting the already broken process.

Klaus Philipsen


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