Holdredge appointed as planning director

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann appointed Arden C. Holdredge as director of the Department of Planning and Zoning Thursday and almost immediately drew criticism for her choice.

Ms. Holdredge, who has been acting director for two months, replaces William G. Carroll, who resigned in November to join the Maryland Office of Planning in Baltimore.


Ms. Holdredge, 43, joined the department as a planner in 1984. She became chief of development review in 1987 and chief of current planning in 1988.

As chief administrator in charge of reviewing development proposals for more than seven years, Ms. Holdredge has often found herself at the center of controversy between developers who want to subdivide the county and environmental activists who want to slow growth.


Mrs. Rehrmann said Ms. Holdredge's "understanding of Harford County and her experience in the planning process will be important in the county's efforts to meet the challenges ahead."

But former County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson, challenged the appointment, saying Ms. Holdredge is a "totally unappropriate" choice for the job because she has become too close to the "development empire."

"Arden never saw a development she didn't like," he said.

On Friday, Mr. Wilson sent a letter to Council President Joanne S. Parrott and the County Council requesting an audit of Ms. Holdredge's personal finances, an ethics probe of her relationships with developers and a public hearing on her appointment.

'Appalled' at appointment

He wrote that he was "appalled that Mrs. Rehrmann would appoint someone whose pro-development stance within the Department is so well known both inside and outside Harford County Government."

And he said he had hoped Mrs. Rehrmann would look outside the county for a planning director.

He said an audit of Ms. Holdredge's finances is necessary "to ascertain that her relationship has been legal, ethical and appropriate for one who has been proposed to be the senior regulatory officer of development in Harford County."


The council, which must approve all executive appointments, is under no obligation to hold a public hearing on the appointment.

Former Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, who championed slow growth and the passage of adequate public facilities laws throughout her 1990-1994 term, also criticized the Holdredge appointment.

"I think she's a little too close with the engineers, contractors and developers who do business with Harford County," Mrs. Pierno said. "In a dispute, she would usually lean more to their side than to that of the citizens. I was hoping that, with all the talent out there, the county would bring in someone objective."

Ms. Holdredge said Friday that her critics overestimate her power.

Agencies have input

"The approval of subdivisions is based on legislation adopted by the County Council, and the technical review of any particular plan is the result of input by several state and county agencies," she said. "There isn't any single person with that much authority, by themselves, to approve or disapprove development."


Among the challenges county officials face in the near future is comprehensive zoning, the process of reviewing zoning designations throughout the county in conjunction with the master plan and making changes in classifications. That process, which takes about a year, will begin late this year. It will be coordinated by Planning and Zoning and legislated by the County Council.

Some people fear that the development envelope, the T-shaped area defined by the Route 24 and U.S. 40 corridors and designated for concentrated development, will be broadened during that process, allowing subdivisions to spill beyond existing limits.

Mrs. Holdredge's critics fear she won't stand up to pressure from the development industry to relax the existing borders of the envelope. But Mrs. Holdredge says she is not responsible for what those critics see as runaway development.

"The zoning patterns in Harford County have been around in their current form for 20 to 25 years," she said. "It was not my decision that Harford County would have intense urban zoning categories along the Route 24 corridor. We're simply enforcing and regulating plans that were confirmed in the 1977 master plan.

Balance is promised

"I would balance the concerns that I am too close with the development community with the number of average citizens in the county who were frequently angry about an issue that I have helped. I think I have a good feeling for a lot of the concerns of the average citizen," she said.


Mrs. Rehrmann said Mrs. Holdredge was instrumental in starting the process of informing the public about developers' plans. "She was responsible for getting communities involved before any legislation was ever passed on that. She's a strong advocate of community planning," the executive said.

"I think Mrs. Rehrmann made an excellent choice," said Tony Oleszczuk, president of the Riverside Community Association. "Arden is a person who can deal with people as well as the technical part of planning. She knows what's going on and has a grasp of the issues."

Mr. Oleszczuk, who has lived in Riverside more than a decade, said Ms. Holdredge has been fair and responsive in resolving residents' complaints about builders and zoning violations.

"It's a tough job," he said. "No matter what you rule, someone is going to say you made the wrong decision."

Mr. Wilson, whose relationship with the county executive was stormy throughout his council presidency, says the county executive made a bad choice.

Criticism said unfounded


"It's a sellout by Mrs. Rehrmann, and it proves what many of us were afraid of -- that she took the developers' money in 1994 [in campaign contributions], and now she's going to pay the price," he said. "It's an abandonment of the principles she put forth through her entire first term."

Mrs. Rehrmann said the criticism is unfounded, and she scoffed at suggestions of paybacks.

"My concern now is that there is community input in the development process, and the focus of the new director will be to continue the efforts of the community-based planning councils," she said.

"The developers and I did not agree on a number of things. We did battle on water and sewer rates, on adequate public facilities, on the transfer tax, on schools . . . The developers supported me because they were concerned about the financial welfare of the county if my opponent were elected."