Eleventh-hour surprises are to no one's liking, especially when it comes to the problems of development. The sooner that the community becomes involved in a building project, the easier to resolve potential conflicts. The sooner a developer learns of local concerns, the better chance to resolve them efficiently.
Harford County is considering legislation to require developers to hold community input meetings before submitting a project for review by county agencies. Developers would have to notify interested parties and neighbors of the hearing, and public comments made there would be considered part of the developer's plan filed with county agencies.
The process would not change zoning categories or establish new requirements for developers. But zoning rules have some flexibility that can be exercised by authorities should circumstances permit. Concerned citizens often raise issues overlooked by the county agencies, points that could influence the approval decision. And community appeal rights would not be abridged.
The proposed Harford measure is largely based on Baltimore County's development review procedure, which went into effect more than a year ago. While it is still new and adjustments have been proposed, the Baltimore County system appears to be working much better than the old County Review Group process, which frequently imposed unpleasant surprises on affected neighborhoods.
Communities are informed of projects, and they make comments at public meetings. There is question, however, as to how much of their input is actually forwarded to the zoning commissioner. And there are complaints about how much weight is given to those community comments.
Harford's legislation would build on that experience, aiming to bring developer and community together before problems can arise. "What we're trying to avoid is a situation where a community does not become aware of a project being developed until land is actually broken," Councilwoman Theresa Pierno explains.
Projects of any size currently do not have to go before community hearings as long as they meet zoning requirements. The proposal would apply to commercial and industrial projects, subdivisions of five or more units and multi-family housing.
The Harford measure would help a county in the midst of a major growth phase, allowing communities to raise legitimate issues without hobbling the legitimate use of properly zoned land.