The following comments were included in a more lengthy presentation to the Harford County Council on Tuesday. A copy was provided for publication.
On Sept. 17 the Harford County Council acting as the Board of Appeals ratified and adopted the Hearing Examiner's Decision for Case 5781 for a special development to permit a planned residential development for the construction of 198 apartment units at Plumtree and Route 24.
I was disappointed with this decision and have questions about the decision and concerns how the hearing was conducted for final arguments on Sept. 10.
If you read the transcripts of the three weeks of hearings which I doubt anyone did, you will conclude that the findings of fact and conclusion of law as outlined by the Hearing Examiner were primarily based upon reliance on the applicant's opinions and testimony. In my opinion they lacked factual evidence. How can the examiner say there will be a decrease in traffic congestion, traffic will flow more freely and the area will benefit by the completion of Tollgate road extended where the apartments will be built when there is no known solution to the major intersections of Route 24 and Plumtree and Tollgate and Plumtree?
I believe Council members took the course of least resistance by accepting the Hearing Examiner's recommendation, thereby kicking the can down the road. You have placed the responsibility back in the hands of the Planning and Zoning and Development Advisory Committee to work things out when they already told you to deny the application because the applicant did not comply with the requirements. Please explain that rationale to me.
This leads me to my concluding remarks.
I have been attending Council Meetings, Zoning Hearing Cases, Community Input Meetings and Development Advisory Committee Meetings. I have written to and met with representatives of the Planning and Zoning Department, the State Highway Administration, the County executive, the engineers for the developers and the owners of some projects proposed. I have tried very hard to understand the complex and confusing Harford County Zoning Code, Chapter 267, which is close to 400 pages, the designation of zoning districts, the use classification charts, traffic impact studies, adequate public facilities and the processes, rules and regulations on how a project starts and ends. To say that the average person should understand the requirements of all the zoning districts AG, RR, R1 to R4, RO, B1 to B3, C1, L1, MO, G1 is irresponsible especially to those who say the people are responsible when zoning changes happen or they should know that a big box store, such as a Walmart, can go in a B3 district.
Unfortunately, I have observed that the people have little or no say in what happens with any zoning change or proposed project in their neighborhood that affects their daily lives, safety and quality or life.
Developers believe Community Input Meetings are citizen gripe sessions and view them as checking off a square in the process of obtaining their approval. They hear what people say but have no legal obligation to follow through with anything they promise the people during that meeting. The greatest example was the Walmart Community Input Meeting where the community turned out in great numbers to oppose the move from Constant Friendship to Plumtree. Did it mean anything? Did Walmart comply with their promises to the people at the meeting? I believe we know the answers to those questions.
I found at Development Advisory Committee Meetings the public can make comments but again there is no obligation for the County or the developer to do anything but listen. Why bother? What purpose does it serve?
I found that proposed legislation such as Bill 13-16 with approved amendments in April of this year to limit the size of stores in B3 districts was supported by council members but never gets to the floor for discussion or a vote and it dies.
Although there has been some progress, the council fails to pass legislation that addresses and alleviates the major concerns of the citizens which are over development, traffic congestion, safety and quality of life. Instead I see no teamwork among Council members and in many cases conflict and hostility between members who only look at their respective districts and their own self-interests.
The Council needs to fix many of the zoning processes and procedures by improving the Zoning Code and providing all citizens in Harford County with fair and responsible representation.