Baltimore County's Planning Board established an advisory committee yesterday to study County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s proposal to spur revitalization of blighted commercial properties, a plan that has sparked widespread interest and concern among community leaders.
After Smith outlined his plan and comments he has received from residents, Planning Board Chairman Charles E. Klein agreed to the executive's request for a committee and took his suggestion for a chairman, H. Edward Parker Jr., a planning board member who has been a key player in Dundalk's revitalization efforts.
Klein gave Parker a deadline of late March to evaluate the proposal and suggest changes.
"We need to resolve these issues to the satisfaction of all interested parties as soon as we can and get legislation to the County Council," Klein said.
Smith's plan is designed to encourage builders to redevelop run-down commercial properties by freeing them from traditional zoning rules and giving them faster approvals. In exchange, developers would have to take part in planning sessions with the community, effectively giving residents veto power over what gets built.
After early complaints about the details of the bill and a lack of public input into its drafting, Smith has aggressively courted residents' opinions.
He suggested yesterday that the Planning Board consider who would be allowed to participate in the planning sessions; how much time should be allotted for them; what part of county government would sign off on development plans; and how appeals should be handled.
He did not indicate what conclusions he had drawn about those issues.
However, the selection of Parker as chairman of the advisory committee provides some insight into the direction the discussion of the bill will take. Parker served on a committee of the Dundalk Renaissance Corp. that reviewed Smith's bill last month and sent the executive a list of concerns that mirror those raised by others in the county.
The committee's report applauds the goals of Smith's proposal but suggests that definitions be clarified to ensure that those who want to participate in the planning process can. It also recommends that community organizations not be shut out of the process. The report also suggests that planning meetings be spread over more than the seven to 14 days Smith proposed and that the emphasis in the bill on Main Street-style communities be toned down so projects can more easily fit into established neighborhoods.