Harford County Executive David R. Craig said that the County Council erred in approving more than 50 amendments to a countywide rezoning bill -- some of which would add nearly 175 acres of land for business use -- and has not ruled out a veto.
On Tuesday, the council approved a rezoning package that reversed dozens of recommendations made by the county planning and zoning department and nearly quadrupled the number of business zoning requests that had been approved. The rezoning process takes place every eight years, allowing property owners to seek changes in land use.
Officials said they expect the next decade to bring significant population growth and increased demand on infrastructure from job expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Craig said the planning department's recommendations enabled the county to progress while leaving the door open for subsequent planning when the needs become apparent.
"We believe we had a method in creating" the rezoning bill, the Republican executive said in an interview Thursday. "I'm not convinced [the council] had a method in deconstructing it."
According to Craig, Harford has 10 million square feet of land zoned for business and other retail use that is unoccupied or has not been built on. The planning department approved 15 of the 132 requests seeking new or more intensive business zoning, which would have created 24 new acres for retail.
But, on Tuesday, the council approved an additional 41 requests that will add 175 acres of new or more-intense business zoning and 1 million more square feet of retail space, not including parking and other considerations.
"Especially that vacant stuff, it's ugly and really flies in the face of the need and our desire to use a comprehensive plan to redevelop Route 40," Craig said.
Councilman Lance C. Miller, a Republican from Darlington who voted for more upzoning amendments than any of his colleagues, said the council was merely doing its job.
"The administration needs to remember this is how the process works," Miller said. "We're the legislative body. What we did to that bill is our job, and I hope he's not insinuating that the council is unqualified, because that's what it sounds like."
In addition, many of the administration's business upzonings were not substantial enough for meaningful business development, added Councilman Richard C. Slutzky, a Republican from Aberdeen.
Council President Robert S. Wagner, also a Republican, was the only council member to vote against the rezoning bill.
Craig, who told The Sun last week that a veto would be ineffective, said he would meet with his staff before making a decision. He has 20 days to veto the bill, in which case it would be sent back to the council for another vote. If it passed again, voters would have the option of collecting signatures for a referendum. A referendum in 1998 to repeal the previous year's rezoning bill failed.