Board urges approval of planning bill


The Baltimore County Planning Board voted yesterday to recommend the county executive's plan for a community consensus-driven revitalization process, incorporating several amendments recommended by an advisory group that studied the proposal.

Several community activists and representatives of business groups testified in favor of the plan, with some reservations. One of the primary concerns of residents and developers in the advisory group was that County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s proposal does not provide enough incentives for builders to take on the costly work of redeveloping underused sites.

Members of the group also questioned how the county would determine whether community members and developers have arrived at a consensus about what should be built, whether the process should require developers to follow the county's adequate public facilities law, and what power the County Council should have in approving or amending a project.

Smith introduced his plan in November, saying it would provide incentives for builders to redevelop older commercial centers by streamlining the approval process and cutting down on appeals.

The builders would also be exempt from zoning rules, setbacks, parking requirements and other county regulations.

In exchange, community groups would be given veto power over the developments through sets of planning meetings known as charrettes.

A 37-member advisory panel of community activists, developers, Planning Board members and others examined the proposal in February. Afterward, the group's chairman, Planning Board member H. Edward Parker Jr., redrafted Smith's bill in consultation with the Planning Department.

Although all the members of the advisory group who testified complimented Parker's handling of the proposal, they said it still contains flaws.

"This version is a much-improved one over what we saw earlier," said Steve Lafferty, a community activist from Stoneleigh who served on the group. "But I don't believe this really does create an expedited-enough process to provide incentives for the developer."

Parker introduced a half-dozen amendments that would make the board the final arbiter of consensus and remove the County Council's authority to amend a plan.

The board did not, however, address the issue of incentives. Parker said that including them in the bill would be improper because they could affect the county's yearly budgets.

The bill now goes to the council for debate and a vote.

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