Must Anne Arundel County Grow?
by William N. Papian
"Yes, but" appears to be the answer to the title question. Yes, we must grow, but slowly and carefully, especially in the residential sector where studies have shown that residential growth doesn't pay for itself. How to manage such growth becomes the next question, and the answer is largely through the proper use of zoning regulations, as explained in my previous commentaries of this subject (NBT March 18, April 2 and June 18).
Anne Arundel County's Administration, through its Department of Planning and Code Enforcement, PACE, has been using such regulations to manage growth for many years. The basic principles underlying the regulations are set, over the years, by the citizenry through our legislative body, the county council. Framing the legislation is, of course, guided by the Office of Law and the land-use experts of PACE, and results in bills passed by the council and signed, or vetoed, by the county executive. (A veto can be overridden by a five-sevenths vote of the council.) The regulations are thus kept up to date and modified, enabling them to be the primary tool for growth management.
In an odd sense, there's another tool: interpretation. The exact language of a law may contain some ambiguity. The people in our culture best qualified to sniff out and take advantage of such ambiguities are attorneys; in this case, the best motivated ones are land-use attorneys working for developers. When citizens or civic associations attempt to confront what they consider serious misinterpretations, they face the developer's attorney and the county's attorney united in a solid front against them. The county, having approved the developer's final plan, finds itself boxed in and must fight, lest the developer sue it for the large investment already made in the venture. The county has also invested time and effort and finds it prudent to stand by its position. The result: a playing field seriously tilted against the citizenry.
Article 26 of the subdivision regulations presently states: "A person aggrieved by any action of the Director or the Department taken under this Article may appeal to the County Board of Appeals." Yet very recently (April 21, 1998) such an appeal was not heard due to a county motion that "the appeal was premature, and should wait until final approval of the development has been granted." At that point, of course, it's almost too late: the die has been cast, and the County has to join with the developer in defense of its decisions - especially when similar decisions have been made in the past.
Both the administration and the council bear the responsibility to clear up this dilemma: the administration by taking seriously any alleged misinterpretations; the council by passing legislation to close loopholes and tighten up the language of zoning regulations. Both bodies should utilize the help offered by committed citizens and associations.
This is the perfect time to make such reforms. The new General Development Plan is approved and in place. If its lofty visions about improving the quality of life, protecting natural resources and rescuing the Bay are not to become empty platitudes we must get moving now. We must muster the political will to manage and to slow residential development in Anne Arundel County.
-Bill Papian is president of the Shady Side Peninsula Association Inc., Box 114, Shady Side, MD 20764.
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VolumeVI Number 27
July 9-15, 1998
New Bay Times
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