In a move to give builders more flexibility while offering residents more input, the Baltimore County Council approved legislation unanimously yesterday to overhaul the rarely used "planned unit development" process.
The bill also includes measures to encourage building more assisted-living facilities for senior citizens in the county.
A handful of community activists worked extensively with the bill's prime sponsor, Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, and succeeded in attaching several amendments to the bill aimed at making new developments compatible with existing communities.
Kamenetz said he has been working for several years on a way to encourage more housing for the elderly, which he said is badly needed in the county, and to revive the planned development process that was enacted more than a decade ago in hopes of encouraging more creative building projects.
The process exempts builders from some development rules if the county deems a project to be in the public interest. It is used about once a year, according to county officials.
Kamenetz's plan streamlines the approval process and shifts much of the authority over planned unit developments to the Planning Board.
Currently, the zoning commissioner has that authority, but Kamenetz said moving that power to the Planning Board would encourage greater give-and-take among developers, residents and county officials.
"The Planning Board has demonstrated their ability to work with the community, understand the needs of the community and be sensitive to their needs," Kamenetz said.
The amendments adopted by the council specify that the Planning Board can ease requirements such as setbacks and height restrictions only if it is in the public interest.
The board also places restrictions on the additional senior-citizen housing units developers are allowed to build if they make some housing available to lower-income residents.