Activists seek overhaul of zoning process Communities would have louder voice in land use


Saying they are fed up with zoning loopholes and being shut out of the development process, some Baltimore County community leaders are calling for changes in the county's planning and land-use laws.

The group last night released Project 98, a 111-page document demanding improvements in the county's comprehensive planning, zoning and development review process; stronger regulations to assure that projects are compatible with surrounding neighborhoods; a tougher adequate public facilities law; and better public access to meetings and information.

The activists said they intend to make Project 98 an issue in the fall County Council races.

"We would like to know who is voting for and who is against," said J. Carroll Holzer, a lawyer who frequently represents community groups in development controversies.

Work on the proposals began almost two years ago as activists became increasingly frustrated with the county zoning and development process, Holzer said.

"It's always the special interests that are able to bring the big guns to bear," Holzer told a gathering of about 50 community activists at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson last night.

The community leaders listed a number of complaints with the county's development process, including:

Hearing officers are granting too many variances to developers, allowing for inferior projects.

County officials ignore community wishes when reviewing development plans.

Regulations designed to assure the quality of projects are poorly enforced.

Commercial and industrial projects have been allowed to encroach on residential neighborhoods.

Community activists have trouble getting information about the permit and development process.

Among the numerous examples the group cited as having been approved against community will were the University of Maryland Baltimore County Research Park in Catonsville, the Wilson Farm subdivision in Glyndon, the expansion of Poor Boy's Country Market in Parkville and cellular telephone towers in rural areas.

The group called for an overhaul of the county's master plan and comprehensive zoning processes, and limits on the authority of the Department of Permits and Development Management.

The group also wants County Council members prohibited from voting on projects if they have received campaign contributions from the developer.

The 111-page document, which will be updated throughout the summer, will be made available to county officials and candidates, and distributed to community associations for their endorsement, Holzer said.

Arnold Jablon, director of the county's Department of Permits and Development Management, said he had not seen Project 98 but took issue with many of the group's complaints.

"No system is perfect," he said. "The system we have was the result of a compromise between the community, developers, builders and residents."

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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