Anne Arundel Rezoning Highlights County Land Use Challenges

Several recent news articles have highlighted some of the challenges faced by Anne Arundel County as it continues its rezoning process.  Such challenges can occur in any county or municipality as it seeks to rezone.

A June 5 Capital article discusses charges that the Anne Arundel County Council’s rezoning process is not transparent enough.  The charges prompted County Executive John Leopold to voice similar concerns and propose halting the zoning changes pending further citizen participation.  Councilmembers rebutted the charges, pointing to the numerous public meetings and outreaches that they hold.  Complaints about lack of transparency are often raised during a county’s rezoning process.

The suggestion of lackluster transparency frustrated councilmen who spend hours at community groups, fielding phone calls and replying to emails.  …

Nearly every seat was taken last week as 50 people packed a hall to hear Councilman Chris Trumbauer’s presentation on rezoning, held just days after the process was publicly criticized for operating in the shadows.

Trumbauer finds the accusations unjust, and ticked off on his fingers reasons why he appreciated the crowd.  …

Councilman Jerry Walker, who held his own rounds of meetings earlier this year, pointed out that people complaining about a lack of transparency are the same ones engaged in the process – and who access an unprecedented number of maps, applications and data available on the county’s website.  …

Some residents have complained that the time for citizen comment comes at the end of the process after professional planners have made their decisions.

“The citizens were cut off at the knees,” said Annapolis resident Liles Creighton, who served on a Small Area Plan committee that oversaw the last major rezoning a decade ago. “They didn’t call in the community groups and ask them to review them.”

An earlier June 1 Baltimore Sun article discusses concerns over a proposed waterfront senior housing project in southern Anne Arundel, which is predominantly rural.  The Sun article uses the project’s contentiousness to highlight criticisms over counties exercising their own land use control.

For nearly nine years, neighbors and preservationists have fought the Crandall Cove development of 32 senior apartments on land given to James’ nonprofit group, decrying the move to develop the heavily forested land in Churchton overlooking the waters of Deep Cove Creek. County land use officials have ruled that his project is inappropriate for the area, where County Executive John R. Leopold is trying to delay the consideration of broad zoning changes.  … Such battles over rural land have been fought in every suburban county in the Baltimore area.  …

“The state delegated the authority for land use to local governments, which is fine, but there must be some accountability to that land use because it matters to the state,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland. “The state picks up the bill for schools, impact on the bay. And it’s not OK for the counties to not have any accountability for that.”

Baltimore County, which has been noted as a national leader in rural land preservation, developed an urban-rural demarcation zone in the late 1960s and has worked to contain about two-thirds of its population in densely populated areas.

By comparison, in largely rural Carroll County, development plans have been dictated by the county commissioners. Land use advocates say the elected leaders there have alternated between containing growth to pockets that are served by infrastructure — orads and utilities — and allowing new homes to gobble up farmland.

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