Metro Centre could avoid regulations under Balto. Co. bill

A Baltimore County councilman wants to free the site of a giant Owings Mills development from county rules governing parking, signage and building sizes — a proposal that some colleagues and neighbors say amounts to "a blank check" for the project's builder.

The measure, introduced by County Councilman Kenneth Oliver and set for a Thursday vote , would exempt the county's first transit-oriented development from rules on the number of required parking spaces and the amount of open space developers must set aside. The bill would also allow the developer to build without telling the county how many students the planned residential units would add to the school system.

The long-awaited development near the Metro station will feature the county's largest library branch, a community college center, office and retail space, a hotel and 1,700 residential units. The Metro Centre at Owings Mills broke ground in 2011 after years of delays.

As introduced, the bill also would exempt the project from regulations on the height and areas of its buildings. Oliver said he plans an amendment that he hopes will ease concerns by adding some limitations.

At a County Council meeting last week, Councilwoman Cathy Bevins said the bill appeared to be a "blank check" for the project near the intersection of Interstate 795 and Painters Mill Road.

"Are there any checks and balances for this project?" the Middle River Democrat asked.

Cheryl Aaron of the Greater Greenspring Association told the council her community was "incredibly concerned about the lack of restrictions."

"It's a very dangerous precedent to set," Aaron said after the meeting. "From that point of view, every community in every district should be concerned."

The county planning board is researching the ways the county should handle regulations for transit-oriented developments, which are densely built projects near public transportation stations.

The planning board's findings are due by Oct.31, but Oliver's legislation would take effect June 6 if passed Thursday. Bevins asked why the legislation could not wait until the board finished its research.

"What's the hurry?" Bevins said this week. "It seems like we're putting the cart before the horse."

It was unclear how the legislation might affect the course of the construction or the project's timeline. Through a spokesman, Metro Centre developer Howard Brown of David S. Brown Enterprises declined to comment on the bill.

Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, said the county needs to help the Owings Mills project succeed.

"We need to do whatever we can do to make sure that that center gets … developed," Oliver said this week. "I saw no need for holding it up."

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