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Anne Arundel Council holds first hearing on General Development Plan, residents weigh in

A host of Anne Arundel County residents and stakeholders came before the Anne Arundel County Council Monday night to voice priorities for the General Development Plan, which will be debated by the council over the next two months.

Residents and activists and lobbyists alike questioned Plan 2040′s implementation order, warned against being overly prescriptive, and called for amendments. The council voted to hold the bill to allow for more time to work on the bill and more public hearings.

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The plan, which has been in the works for more than two years, was formally introduced to the council at a recent work session. At the meeting, County Executive Steuart Pittman made an appeal to the council.

“I know it’s a little corny to quote your dad in a setting like this but I can’t resist. He would say it’s the obligation of each generation to leave the land that we use in better condition than we found it. To me, that about sums up why Plan 2040 is a really big deal.”

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Pittman said the plan prioritizes smart growth and providing adequate public facilities. He warned the council against making comprehensive rezoning decisions in conflict with the plan like he said has happened in the past.

“Most residents didn’t notice those land-use changes when they were worked their way through the legislative process, they just noticed that schools got overcrowded, trees came down and traffic got a whole lot worse,” Pittman said.

The council will hold additional work sessions for the GDP at 6 p.m. on March 11 and at 6 p.m. on April 1. There is no public participation at work sessions, but members of the public can watch the meetings online or listen in by calling 1-301-715-8592 with ID 822 9177 8554 and passcode 98891972.

Councilwoman Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater, asked Pittman about the way the nine region plans will be developed and implemented. She said some of her constituents feel frustrated with the process so far.

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“I’ve heard from a number of members who thought that they were going to have clear voices as part of the GDP. And then as it went through feel like their voices were not heard, and that the plan was really a planning and zoning plan that they were just supposed to sign off on,” Haire said.

Pittman said there is always going to be tension between the staff who is writing the plan and advising residents. But the plan explicitly outlines how the region plans should be composed and what their roles will be.

Pittman said the most important thing is that the groups are diverse. The plan requires they be made of at least nine members and suggests including members such as someone who has lived in the county for more than 20 years; someone who has lived in the county for fewer than 10 years; a young adult or someone who represents the youth; a local business representative; and a home builder or real estate developer. The plan says the committee should be representative of the demographics of the region in age, gender, racial and ethnic composition.

Councilman Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, questioned planners about how the region plans would be staggered with the required update of the GDP in eight years.

Planning and Zoning Officer Steve Kaii-Ziegler said the department will stagger the region plans, but still will have “several parallel priority planning processes,” going on at once over the next decade. Since each region plan could take between 18 and 36 months to develop and implement, the Citizen’s Advisory Committee recommended starting the first three in May, the next three in October 2022 and the final three in April 2024.

“While that’s going on, we’re doing other planning products like updating the master water, sewer plan, the Odenton Town Center, Parole Town Center, the greenways plan so there’s a lot of plans coming your way. And as those finish out, it will be time to begin updating Plan 2040 for the next 10 years,” Kaii-Zeigler said.

Some residents of Linthicum opposed a specific proposed zoning change in their area in written testimony and during the live public comment period. It would change the Linthicum Lightrail Station zoning from low-medium residential to mixed-use, where the plan envisions more transit-oriented development.

Kevin Plessner wrote that “It is clear that the staff member who recommended this change has never visited the Linthicum Light Rail station or the area surrounding it.”

He said the area isn’t suited for transit-oriented development because it’s surrounded by residential housing, an elementary school and a strip mall.

Linthicum residents Nancy and Steve Chapman wrote, “We live with our families in a residential neighborhood. The zoning should stay as residential. Before the vote takes place maybe the committee should ride over and look at our area and not just look at a plot on a screen. This, if approved, will affect the entire community.”

Other business

The council also heard from residents who were concerned about the way the Anne Arundel County Police Department has handled a now-postponed police hearing board trial.

The trial is for an officer who has been recommended for firing after a 2019 arrest in which a Black man claims in a lawsuit the officer knelt on his neck during an encounter. Three residents told the council they thought the trial board meeting should be broadcast live to the entire community instead of being broadcast only to select police departments, especially during a pandemic. Advocates of greater transparency included Bishop Antonio Palmer of the United Black Clergy and resident Jikaela Call, and Lawrence Diggs of the Harford County Caucus of African American Leaders.

The night was otherwise smooth for the council, with the unanimous approval of bills related to permits for residential piers and riparian rights; supplementary appropriations for a grants revenue fund; leasing an old county landfill to create revenue and solar energy; and rules for the Board of Appeals.

The council was split along party lines on a bill from Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler, R-Arnold, that would have limited future states of emergency to 45 days with council approval. The council Democrats and Pittman’s administration opposed the bill, though it would not have impacted the current state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was defeated 3-4.

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