Was Boogie Weinglass, that favorite rich uncle of every Baltimore area sports fan, really so peeved with public comment about expansion of his clothing company that he pulled up stakes in Towson for the faster track of development in Harford County?
That's the suggestion of James Fielder, Harford's economic development chief, who blames Baltimore County's community input process for causing Mr. Weinglass' Merry-Go-Round retail clothing empire to shift its corporate headquarters to Joppa. He says the Procter & Gamble Co. made the same decision to site a major warehouse in Joppa because Harford didn't impose this onerous burden on business, and Baltimore County did.
Mr. Fielder has received due acclaim, locally and nationally, for his success in steering desirable major new businesses through Harford's fast-track approval process. There's been little backlash for those accomplishments so far, either. It's a potent arrow in Harford's economic hunting quiver.
Still, we don't think that many public-minded firms, the kind that Mr. Fielder says are selected for fast-track treatment, would strongly object to an obligatory public meeting to explain their plans and hear community feedback. That's what Clorox Co. did to smooth its way into the community.
Proposed county legislation to require a public hearing, and to include public comments in the file sent to zoning officials for approval, is a sensible idea. It's not anti-development, it's not going to change the zoning codes, it's not a bureaucratic delay tactic. It's simply assuring the public's right to know about residential and commercial projects, and alerting the builders to potential problems.
Mr. Fielder may be accurate that putting up hurdles for business to clear is contrary to the charge of his office to remove them. But he's also working for the overall good of the Harford citizens, and the quality of their life, aside from increased tax revenues. There's no reason both can't co-exist for the greater good of all Harford.
If the fact that a company has to hold a community meeting to explain its legitimate plans is all that frightening, one has to question both the intent and the community attitudes of the potential developer or subdivider. Cutting through useless red tape is a positive thing for development; cutting out the public is a negative thing. Residents deserve the courtesy of information about projects in their neighborhoods; they don't deserve the fast shuffle to preserve the insiders' fast track.