Anne Arundel County planners didn't know what to expect 16 months ago when they called on the public to map long-range goals for their communities as part of a countywide rezoning.
But small-area planning has taken off, drawing some 2,000 residents to the most recent round of public forums. From these have come ideas that no professional planners put into residents' heads. The message coming out of this flurry of civic activity seems clear: Residents want the county to remain largely the way it looks.
Six committees are wrapping up work on recommendations that mostly put curbs on development, and six more committees assigned to other regions of the county could begin meeting in April.
Since County Executive Janet S. Owens was elected in November to succeed John G. Gary, county officials have
slowed the schedule of appointing committees so that more applications can come in and Owens can make the selections. To give the Owens administration more time, the release of draft rezoning maps for the first six areas to go through the process has been delayed.
"We're still looking at everything," said Andrew C. Carpenter, a spokesman for Owens. "The county executive is thrilled by the number of people involved in the small-area process. The real task will be to make sure that their input is melded with comprehensive rezoning."
Steven R. Cover, director of planning and code enforcement for Anne Arundel County, had the idea of dividing the county into areas in which volunteer committees would decide how their communities should deal with change.
"It certainly has exceeded our expectations," Cover said.
He said it has been his dream as a public planner to let residents do their planning.
Prince George's and Montgomery counties have used similar citizen planning bodies, but they rely on professional planners to develop recommendations for the residents, Cover said.
"Here, the committees made recommendations," he said. "It's not government telling people what to do, it's people planning their own futures."
Crownsville, Crofton, Severna Park, Broadneck, Edgewater/Mayo and Annapolis Neck have completed draft plans.
The next set of committees, for Deale/Shady Side, South County, Severn, Odenton, Jessup/Maryland City and BWI/Linthicum, were to have started drafting plans in November, but with the extension of the application deadline to Jan. 29, they might not begin until April.
South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development Inc., an activist group, demanded the delay so that Owens, who is from South County, could be involved.
No rubber stamps
The first six volunteer committees to meet and generate plans have hardly been rubber stamps for the recommendations of professional planners.
"We were not told by staff or anyone else what to do," said Steve Carr, chairman of the Broadneck Small Area Committee. "It's planning by community plebiscite. That's a different thing to do. Nobody knew how it would play out."
Carr said his 15-member committee strove for consensus on decisions instead of taking simple majority votes.
After one contentious session this summer that saw the committee split 8 to 7 on whether to recommend widening College Parkway, Carr decided that the next meeting, though public, should be at a bar instead of Anne Arundel Community College.
Committee members were greeted by about 100 residents packed into Deep Creek Restaurant and prepared to protest any decision to widen the important Broadneck thoroughfare.
One person accused the committee of being on John Gary's "crew."
"What happened was this wonderful sort of bonding" among committee members, Carr said. "Everybody sort of circled up the wagons and said, 'We're all in this together.' "
From drafters to advocates
That night, Carr said, the committee voted 13 to 2 against widening the parkway, and in one night it completed what for other committees took several meetings.
He said the committee wants to stay together after completing its work on the draft zoning plan, probably by March. The members will then become advocates for the plan, reminding council members, for example, of the community's vision when it is time for decisions on rezoning properties and allowing more dense development, he said.
William Moulden, chairman of the Crownsville Small Area Committee, credits the Gary administration with taking a risk in letting "citizens put their hands on the planning process."
"It didn't fit the profile that many painted John Gary with -- as
someone who listened almost exclusively to the developers," Moulden said. "If that were true, he never would have come up with this idea."
Cover said Gary agreed to the small-area plan after planning and code enforcement officials assured him that planners would be assigned to help the groups.
Council gets final word
While the people have spoken and put their visions of their communities into writing, final decisions are up to the County Council.
It will vote on whether to adopt each plan.
Zoning determines how land will be used. The council will decide which zoning changes to make.
Plans from the first set of six committees will be presented to the Planning Advisory Board and then to the County Council, probably in the spring, said John Morris, planning and code enforcement spokesman.
Pub Date: 12/27/98