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Citizens get new respect at hearings


Joan Phillips was bewildered by the solicitous attention she and her neighbors got Tuesday evening at a meeting at Randallstown Elementary School to discuss a few new homes proposed for the area.

After all, she said, she and her neighbors made the trip to Towson to no avail in 1988 to protest a plan to build 85 townhouses at Oakwood Village just down the road from where David Greene wants to put up four $250,000 homes. She couldn't understand all the fuss now "over five or six lots."

Oakwood Village, however, was approved under the old County Review Group procedure. In that process, citizens could offer their comments only at a hearing in Towson, held to grant approval to projects.

There were no allowances made for citizen complaints about traffic or school congestion. And, once approval occurred, citizens found it virtually impossible to block a development.

But the County Council last winter approved an entirely new development procedure, designed to give residents more say in the type of construction permitted in their neighborhoods.

Under the new plan, even the tiny Randallstown development proposed by Mr. Greene cannot get the go-ahead until the builder goes through an arduous, community-oriented procedure.

First, builders must come to a meeting with their prospective neighbors, explain the proposed construction and get community comment. The idea is to provide a way for developers and residents to negotiate potential problems before the county gets involved.

After those talks, a hearing must be held on each project. And the county zoning commissioner can assess the compatibility of a development with homes in the area, and order the builder to make modifications.

An approved development is then subject to further changes or even reversal by the county Board of Appeals which, under the old system, could only reverse County Review Group approvals granted on an arbitrary basis or by fraud.

The Randallstown meeting was the first under the new procedure at which residents could comment on a housing development. And Mrs. Phillips and her husband, Dr. Robert Phillips, said they liked the new procedure.

Dr. Phillips complained that Oakwood's developers "tried to sneak it [the project] by." Although residents "complained [to the county] about traffic, congestion, schools, everything," only minor changes were made in the plan, Mrs. Phillips said.

By contrast, she added, the builder, engineer and several county planning officials at Tuesday night's meeting listened intently to citizen comments. The builder explained that he plans to put up one house at a time, that he will live there himself and that he shares residents concerns about the adequacy of the septic systems, and will address them.

"This," Mrs. Phillips said, "is much better.

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