Shortcut to the mall Anne Arundel: Council's abbreviated review of racetrack now being sought by outlet project.


DEVELOPERS, of late, seem very interested in bypassing Anne Arundel County's special exception zoning process. Last month, Middle River Racing Association convinced the County Council to make an auto racetrack a conditional use on industrial property in Pasadena. Now, the Mills Corp. wants similar treatment for its proposed Potomac Mills-style outlet mall in Harmans, near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Protracted government review can, indeed, harm the business climate. James T. Brady alluded to the problem, citing "red tape" as a lingering concern, when he resigned as Maryland's economic development secretary two weeks ago. However, circumventing the county's established approval process for development presents its own perils. Short cuts can negate citizen participation and prevent a thorough examination of relevant issues.

In Anne Arundel, projects that require special exception from zoning laws are reviewed by a hearing officer. People have an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses at a quasi-judicial hearing.

Developers fear this, because the process can be used as a delaying tactic by opponents.

Conditional uses are different than special exceptions. Zoning already outlines the types of uses that fall under each category. County planners handle conditional use requests administratively. Thus, the public has less of an open forum to participate.

The council should not change legislation for the Mills' project. Like the racetrack, the outlet mall may present an unique opportunity. But undermining zoning damages government credibility. The county can hardly exhort communities to be involved in drafting "master plans," then blithely ignore the zoning that evolves from that long-range planning. The special exception designation was intended for major projects such as the proposed mall.

By changing zoning for every attractive project that comes down the pike, the council loses sight of a larger picture.

Pub Date: 5/15/98

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