Busy – Busy – Busy: A
lot going on. Many of you have contacted me about proposed
changes to the County zoning code (Bill 81-13), which would enable
increased density for townhouse and multifamily residences. The premise
of the legislation is that increased residential density is needed to allow
productive (my term) use of commercial property in some cases.
In this case, it involves properties within two miles of large shopping centers, of which there are four as currently defined, and includes Marley Station Mall. An “exceptional” incentive program was proposed to allow the Planning and Zoning Officer to approve increased density of townhouses and multifamily residences over currently allowed levels. The proposal would be conditioned on the addition of community improvements and amenities. It would also allow townhouses in C2 zoning.
In my opinion, such an ”incentivized” project could be proposed and approved with virtually no community input and no certainty to where the improvements would go, which depends on how broadly or narrowly one defines “community”.
Notwithstanding the fact that the boundary for the Marley Station Mall “incentivized density increases” would only come down to Route 10, the precedent of establishing such an incentivized development policy without “clear, explicit and mandatory” opportunities for community input was and is very troubling to me. “Smart growth” should not become a zoning “trump card,” especially when no one I know believes we have enough existing infrastructure let alone enough to support more “smarter growth”.
After hearing my concerns on this matter, many of you voiced your own concerns to the County Executive and other council members. I greatly appreciate your efforts and as a result, the County Executive took note and has proposed a number of changes to her original bill. These changes, which the Council approved, include not increasing the allowed density of townhouses and to require the fullest possible “community” collaboration in “administrative” residential density increases in current commercial zoning limits.
I would like to add that the existing policy option of allowing “cluster developments” (i.e., clustering density) to be used for smaller “in-fill” projects within mature communities such as Severna Park and Broadneck needs to be more fully considered.
In both situations, the premise is that the County and State can, within a finite period (now defined as 6 years), provide adequate public facilities, which is a bit aggressive in my opinion. After that waiting period, projects can move forward without the need for adequate public facilities. The Board of Education can provide portable classrooms and fee-based utilities can cope. However, ROADS and traffic are the raw edges to this debate. The County Executive gets that. She now has a Transportation Commission. The constraint is our capital spending capacity/debt limits and space for additional road capacity, parking and/or mass transit solutions. The County’s current backlog of capital needs is $2B and that does not include the State’s roads and bridge structures, which are our transportation “backbone” network.
While I am sensitive to and support an owner’s right to develop one’s property, I am also aware that saying “no” to any additional development and evolution can be the first step toward decay and decline.
So, do I have any answers to this conundrum? No, unfortunately, other than realizing the answer involves funding sources and timing. I look forward to the thoughts of the County Executive’s Transportation Commission.
Finally, for those who have asked, I will be filing for re-election as the Councilman of District 5 and would welcome your continued support.
My wife, Sabra, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and fulfilling New Year.
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