A proposal aimed at giving residents more say in the development-approval process was effectively killed Tuesday with a 4-3 County Council vote to postpone action on two amendments introduced by the bill's sponsor, Theresa M. Pierno.
The legislation would have required a public meeting be held when plans for residential and commercial subdivisions are submitted for approval to the Department of Planning and Zoning. It would have solicited public comments early in the approval process and would have made them part of the public record.
With the deadline for passing the legislation only a week away, the vote postponing action on the amendments was essentially a vote to let the bill die.
Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson joined Mrs. Pierno, D-District C, in blaming County Executive Eileen Rehrmann for defeating the bill. He said the administration's "sudden, vigorous opposition to the bill" was a "personal vendetta" against Mrs. Pierno. "There is nothing in this bill that is harmful," he said.
Mrs. Pierno said the Rehrmann administration "lobbied my colleagues behind the scenes, but never testified openly or produced a fiscal impact statement" on the bill, as she had requested. A fiscal review by the council's auditor estimated that the proposal would cost the county $16,000 to $30,000 a year.
"We don't disagree with the concept, we just don't think it will achieve what Theresa thought it would achieve," said George Harrison, a spokesman for Mrs. Rehrmann. "People think they will have more say than they will actually have with this bill. We offered to sit down and rework the bill and submit it later, but we didn't get a positive response."
Since the proposal was introduced two months ago, Realtors, builders and business leaders have lined up against it, complaining at a Nov. 16 public hearing that it would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, delay construction projects, add unnecessary expense and discourage new business.
At the same hearing, the over whelming majority of individual citizens and community organizations supported the bill.
Mrs. Pierno, who campaigned for her council seat on the promise of giving residents more say in what's built in their neighborhoods, has insisted that the bill would not slow economic development or interfere with the Development Advisory Committee, a board of state and county agency officials charged with reviewing development plans after they have been submitted to the planning and zoning department.
The council was split over the issue, with the majority agreeing with Councilman Barry Glassman, R-District D, who said that Mrs. Pierno had jumped the gun by drafting legislation without first building a consensus. He also criticized Mrs. Pierno for abandoning the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC), a group of citizens and building industry representatives created by the administration two years ago to come up with more flexible zoning standards and increase community involvement.
Mrs. Pierno, who serves as the council's representative to the SPC, said she has lost confidence in the board's effectiveness as a community forum because it was dominated by building industry representatives and was dragging its feet in getting communities involved in the development process.
She said her bill was first drafted a year ago, but she was encouraged by the administration and the planning committee to hold off in anticipation of an alternative solutions the committee might suggest.
"I waited and I waited. Well, I think we've waited long enough," she said Tuesday.
Councilwoman Joanne Parrott, R-District B, called the bill a "classic example of political doublespeak" because the bill wouldn't require developers or planning and zoning officials to respond to citizens' comments. "[The bill] creates a false hope for the citizens," she said, in voting for the indefinite postponement.