Businesses wanting to locate in Baltimore County or existing companies hoping to expand operations would have a faster track for property rezoning under a change proposed to the County Council.
A committee appointed by the council has recommended that rezoning for projects that would have an economic benefit to the county and create permanent jobs be processed at any time, under a new process that could speed approval by as much as three years.
The group also recommended that the County Council make the final decision on cases under the proposed economic development initiative process, rather than the county Board of Appeals.
Committee Chairman Leslie M. Pittler, a lawyer and former county official, said, "On balance the good it can do far outweighs any theoretical problems. The whole issue from the last election is that the county needs to further economic development interests."
The business and development community hailed the recommendation as much-needed to help wipe the tarnish from the county's economic development image. But community leaders viewed the proposal with caution.
Under the recommendation, the process would start with the county Office of Planning and Zoning. Once a petition was filed, community organizations in the area would be notified.
The community would also have the benefit of public hearings before the county Planning Board and the council.
Developers' attorney Benjamin Bronstein said that on several occasions clients have decided not to proceed with projects because the rezoning process takes too long.
"Anything that speeds up the process is good for the economic development of the county," Mr. Bronstein said. "The county needs to be able to respond quickly to market pressures, something it can't do now."
His assessment was shared by Patricia A. Winter, executive director of the Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce, who said the county is hamstrung by the complexity of its rezoning and development process.
"It not only makes the process easier for business, but it provides safeguards for the community," Ms. Winter said. "It seems like a sound idea to me."
Wayne M. Skinner, executive director of the Towson Development Corp., past president of the Towson-Loch Raven Community Council and member of the county Planning Board, said the recommendation has merit, but he was concerned that not enough safeguards are included.
"I would like to see some community input meeting included, like there is for the development review process," Mr. Skinner said. ,, But Mr. Pittler noted that any proposal would have to go through the planning board and the council, giving the public time to react.
If the council became the decision-maker on a rezoning case, the result could not be appealed. That, said Mr. Bronstein, makes the recommendation very intriguing.
"Time is money to a developer, and the longer the timetable is, and the more that timetable can be drawn out by appeals, the less likely a company wants to take a chance to build something in Baltimore County," Mr. Bronstein said.
But J. Carroll Holzer, an attorney who represents community organizations in land use issues, said that taking away the appeal process would be disastrous for opposing citizens.
Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina said he hopes to have a bill creating the economic development initiative rezoning process ready for introduction in September with passage in October.
The committee recommended that processing an economic initiative rezoning request take no longer than 4 1/2 months. The present comprehensive rezoning process can take 14 months.
The committee recommended that a project developer would be required to indicate the exact use proposed for the property needing rezoning, provide an economic impact statement and prove that the project would provide jobs.
The recommendation didn't indicate any criteria for the economic benefit nor did it specify the number of jobs a project would have to create to qualify.