Under the current process, the Planning Board is required to have two hearings — one on the initial plan and a second to accommodate new rezoning proposals that come up later. Before the first public hearing, the board is only required to give 30 days notice in the newspaper. It is not until 30 days before the second hearing that owners of property that adjoin a parcel slated for rezoning are required to be notified by the property owners requesting the change.

The administration is proposing to prohibit the Planning Board from considering new rezoning requests, thus eliminating the need for the second public hearing. It would also require DPZ, at least 15 days before the one required Planning Board hearing, to notify owners whose property is subject to rezoning or adjoins a property that is subject to rezoning, as well as post signs on the properties subject to rezoning.

The Planning Board issues recommendations to the council, which under the current process also holds at least two hearings — one or more on the initial plan and Planning Board recommendations, and one or more following any new requests.

As with the Planning Board process, the administration is proposing to prohibit the council from considering new requests. McLaughlin said the goal is to discourage people who have not been paying attention to the process to come in with last-minute requests that drag out the process.

Submit a Letter to the Editor for the Laurel Leader, Columbia Flier and Howard County Times

Council concerns

Sigaty, however, said she sees this provision as limiting council power and an obstacle to solving problems that emerge during the process.

"It has certainly been my experience that as you talk something through in the community new ideas present themselves and may get worked into the solution," she said. "What I don't want to do is make it impossible for those ideas to be considered."

Council member Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat was also critical of the provision. "It would be difficult for me to support eliminating the council's ability to move forward with a request," he said.

However, Ball said he agrees with the administration that the process needs to be more efficient.

"We've seen through the last process that there are opportunities for improvement, and I think it's a worthwhile conversation to have about how to improve this process," he said.

Sigaty also had concerns about the proposal to reduce the public notice requirement from 30 days to 15 days.

"I think it is shortsighted to think that 15 days is enough," she said. Some homeowners associations or other community groups, Sigaty noted, may want to discuss the implications of the plan but only meet once a month.