Monday, April 14, 2008




April 13, 2008


A number of valuable new suggestions were made by those testifying at the April 10 hearing.  These are listed below for discussion and consideration at the task force meeting this Tuesday, 6-8 p.m.


  1. Reconvene the task force periodically for one year to review progress.
  2. Post the property and send notice of the dedication hearing to all residents of a new subdivision, 30 days in advance, so that any unfinished business may be pointed out before the developer's responsibilities are terminated.
  3. Have the county create home owners associations throughout the county.
  4. Require public notice of substantial changes in plans or funding for planned county facilities.
  5. Ensure Planning Board and Zoning Board booklets are kept up-to-date.
  6. On the County website home page have a link at the top on how to get information from the County.
  7. Have the County provide transcripts for residents’ appeals.
  8. Make the General Plan provisions a criterion which the Planning Board may apply.
  9. Require that County Council/Zoning Board members recuse themselves in cases concerning individuals or entities which have contributed $500 or more to them.
  10. Ensure our recommendations and all regulations use the word "adjacent" rather than "adjoining."  The former includes properties across the street, whereas the latter does not.
  11. Prohibit text amendments except for those proposed by County government or agencies in the public interest.
  12. Ensure Route 40, a master plan area, is covered by the proposed Design Advisory Panel.  Note: the Route 40 manual has still not been issued.
  13. Maintain a list of interpreters for hearings.
  14. Ensure information is promptly made available to the public, concerning zoning cases.
  15. Ensure the Office of Law does not advise Planning Board, Zoning Board or Council members that they should not ask certain questions or vote a certain way to avoid the possibility of a suit.
  16. Require that DPW as well as DPZ have a staff person visit the site in the review process of development applications and be alert to safety concerns.



Informally offered by Bridget Mugane.


Monday, April 7, 2008





The following is a list of potential recommendations under consideration by the PELU task force. Final recommendations will not be made until after the public hearing on 4/10/08 when the task force has had a chance to deliberate and consider each recommendation.

  1. Utilize the sign number on zoning signs

    1. Let people call a set number to find out more information

    2. Have a site on the website where people can enter the number and find out more about the proposal including how people can give feedback, who the developer is and how to contact the developer.

  1. Mandate that technical staff reports be made available on the web two weeks prior to the hearing/meeting for all land use hearings/meetings that require a technical staff report.

  1. Have a centralized land use docket which would include planning board, appeals board, and hearing examiner schedules. Docket should have at least a one month lead time.

  1. Issue: Often a developer will contact county officials about developing a property and decisions are made before a formal submission is made.

Solution: Maintain a list on the web of all such communications so that citizens can be aware of an impending change in a property.

  1. Develop a partnership to teach land use process (DPZ University on land use, zoning, how Planning and Zoning works).

  1. Create a handbook for citizens on land use and how they can participate in the process.

  1. Allow people to sign up by email so that they are notified when a new development is submitted within a certain radius of them (allow them to choose from a 1 mile radius, a 5 mile radius or all). Draw on the database collected regularly by the county from several management companies that handle many of the homeowners associations. Allow self-managed homeowners associations, neighborhood associations and civic groups to also sign up.

  1. Have a web page on the county website devoted to ways/links to how a citizen can get information from the government.

  1. Have all email correspondence from citizens acknowledged so that they know it was received.


  1. Before the process begins, educate the public in the process and opportunities for participation.

  1. Because the General Plan process is stretched out over such a long period (from appointment of Task Force to final approval of plan was18 months for 2000 Plan), there is concern that public interest may wane due to its sheer length. Consider tightening up the process, with definitive start and end points for each part of the process.

  1. Hold initial district meetings early in process (before Planning Board meeting) for public input on guidelines (this was done for 2000 Plan and worked well).

  1. Keep public hearings and forums already designated on General Plan Process flow chart.

  1. General Plan Task Force meetings should be open to public observation but not participation.

  1. Consider the use of “push technology” to deliver drafts of General Plan guidelines and chapters to individuals and organizations that indicate an interest (via sign-up with email address) in receiving this information as it is evolving.

  1. Consider “town hall” type meetings for both General Plan guidelines and General Plan that would be delivered via GTV, web streaming, and/or other suitable technology.

    • The public can be encouraged to submit comments either verbally at meeting or by email to a central internet address (blog page).

    • Comments would be open to review by all interested parties including the public at large.

    • Members of the Planning Board, DPZ, and County Council would be encouraged to “click the box” to activate a return message to the poster of the comment indicating it was reviewed and by whom.

  1. The County should develop a General Plan monitoring report (every 2-3 years) to update and mark progress.


  1. At the outset, clearly define the process with specific deadlines and notification procedures. Educate the public on the process and opportunities for input.

  1. Have an “open suggestion” season when staff, members of the public, County Council members, and property owners can suggest appropriate zoning categories for a particular piece of property.

    • Suggestions should include a statement explaining why the suggested category is consistent with and furthers the goals and objectives of the General Plan.

    • All suggestions will be catalogued by area and made available to the public by various means, for example, “push technology”, web posting, and/or interactive maps that highlight areas of change that impact specific districts.

  1. The Planning Board’s recommendations would be limited to suggestions meeting the foregoing criteria. Public comment to the Planning Board can be made at a public meeting or via email through a web page open for public review. Board members can “click the box” to send a return message indicating that the comment was read and by whom.

  1. All properties being considered for rezoning should be posted.

  1. The county will send written notice to property owners and adjoining property owners of a particular property which is being suggested for rezoning, including an explanation of opportunities to engage in the process before the Planning Board and County Council.

  1. Public comment to the County Council can be made verbally at an open hearing or via email sent to a dedicated website that is open to public review. Council members and their staff will be encouraged to “click the box” to indicate they have read the communication.

  1. The County Council should set a cut-off date by which all amendments to the comprehensive rezoning ordinance must be made before there is a final vote.

  1. All rezoning amendments should be generally available to the public, organized in a way that allows the public to easily identify the properties. The use of “push technology” should be considered.

  1. The period between the cut-off dates for amendments and the final vote must be of ample duration (30 days) to allow for public comment.

  1. Keep the current opportunities for public input as indicated on the Comprehensive Rezoning Process flow chart. Change the flowchart to read “County Council Amendments” after box for “County Council 1st Hearing”, and before box for “County Council 2nd Hearing”.


Introduction: There are currently opportunities for public involvement in the land use process including serving on task forces, meeting with developers and DPZ staff, and testifying at hearings. The County website has become an increasingly useful way for the public to obtain information, and appointment of the DPZ Ombudsman has created a contact point for concerned citizens. However, the processes are complex and confusing and some occur without citizen input. PELU Committee 3 has gathered numerous suggestions on how to improve public engagement; we have not evaluated them on the merits or approved them. These are presented below as a catalyst for public comment which can be considered and incorporated in making final recommendations. The public is also strongly encouraged to attend and participate in our meetings


  1. Have a brochure on County website and at hearings, describing how to participate in the land use process and how to file a complaint or appeal, including common scenarios as examples. Point out that complaints should be lodged before DPZ releases the developer’s bond.

  1. Ensure public is involved in formative stage of major legislation, either by a task force or committee, as well as by invitation to citizen organizations or individuals who sign a register.

  1. Have Ombudsman ensure that individuals and organizations may sign up for automatic notification of proposed major land use legislation.

  1. Develop a list of concerned citizens, home owners associations (HOAs), village boards and citizen organizations which have an interest in land use issues, for notification purposes.

  1. Place Ombudsman position under the County Executive rather than being a DPZ Deputy Director.



  1. Ensure that signs of presubmission meetings and development applications are placed on the site so as to be legible from street.

  1. Attach a box to on-site signs, with a DPZ handout describing the whole process, including when and how to have input and what issues are relevant. Include a phone number at which that recorded information is available as well as the developer’s description of the proposal itself.

  1. Publish notices of land use meetings and hearings in the most widely-read newspapers including the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times, on the same page or place in the format as one of the first categories of items, in a visible box frame. Notices to be published on a consistent day.

  1. Send notices of meetings to all adjacent residents, HOAs, community associations, village boards, and individuals who have requested notice, in that area; DPZ is to maintain a list, by district.

Pre-submission community meetings:

  1. Require presubmission meetings convened by the developer for all development proposals, including commercial/retail, and government projects, in all zoning districts.

  1. Have DPZ provide a facilitator for all presubmission meetings, to explain procedures and to help resolve differences between the developer and community.

  1. Require that the developer’s minutes of the meeting state the concerns, followed by possible solutions.

  1. Require the developer to hold a second community meeting, to review the site development plan before it is submitted, and/or if the number of units is increased.

  1. Create incentives for developers to work with the community; could include expanding Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning to allow flexibility useful in resolving differences with the community; allowing transferable development rights; expedited processing; and site-specific incentives.

DPZ Review

  1. Publicize how residents can become an “interested party” who will receive issuances on land development applications, and how they can meet with DPZ staff assigned to the application.

  1. Ensure staff are responsive, helpful and courteous to citizens with telephone or in-person inquiries.

  1. Require DPZ to have a staff person walk the property as part of the initial review process.

  1. Use 8 ½” x 11” format for Technical Staff Reports so they can be printed off the website or be faxed.

  1. Attach the Agency Review Comments to the Technical Staff Report on the website; these are expert opinions which should be made available to the public.

  1. Amend regulations to address matters of frequent concern by the community.

Traffic and Environmental Studies

  1. To help level the playing field, have the County or its contractor do all traffic and environmental studies for development applications; to be funded by fees to be paid by developers into a common fund. This could reduce the need for residents to retain private consultants to testify concerning flaws in studies done by developers/owners.


  1. Place applications for waivers on website; public can sign up to be informed of applications.

  2. Require a pre-submission community meeting for waivers requested prior to development application.

  1. Post notice of waiver applications on site.

Government Development Projects

  1. Require the same due process procedures (notice, presubmission meeting, hearing, etc.) and the same substantive standards such as the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), for government development proposals just as for private proposals.

Design Advisory Panel

  1. Establish a Design Advisory Panel to review all development proposals in all districts, to consider aesthetics as well as the public interest and consistency with the General Plan and other guiding documents. Ensure maximum public participation, to include 30-day advance notice of DAP reviews on the County website and review of presubmission meeting minutes which shall include citizens’ concerns and proposed solutions.


County Website

  1. Have the Planning Board (PB) agenda link on main page or at least on the page with the category, “Departments.”

  1. Have simple rules for testifying on website and as a handout at hearings.

  1. Allow e-mail sign up to testify (as does Council).

  1. Allow e-mail testimony and have a link to facilitate it.

  1. List ZRA and other proposals by the first of each month rather than the middle, when it is too late to get organization board approvals and study proposals.

  1. Have a plain-English summary for each ZRA.

  2. Have an option for signing up to receive PB agenda when it first comes out (as does the Council).

Text Amendments and Map Amendments

  1. Discourage rezoning via ZRAs for individual parcels (“text amendments”); rezoning should be in the Comp Zoning process whenever possible.

  1. Require that all map and text amendments be proposed by DPZ or a County Council member, to ensure merit.

  1. Establish a high burden of proof to be met by developers/owners requesting any zoning change.

  1. Instead of a continuing stream, require that the Planning Board hold meetings quarterly to consider text and map amendments. Post the proposals on the County website at least 30 days prior to a hearing, so residents/organizations have adequate time to review them and consult professionals if they wish.

  1. Require owner or author of the proposal (if it is the Council or DPZ) to state the intent and justification for the request, including consistency with the General Plan and benefit to the County.

  1. Establish a system that would allow public input while a ZRA is still in draft form and can be revised before formal submission.

  1. Require that the Technical Staff Report identify all other properties in the County which would be affected.

  1. Require the owner or County to post the properties for which amendments are sought and to mail notices to adjacent owners and to the community/homeowners association, if one exists, and to hold a presubmission community meeting, with minutes of concerns and possible solutions to be made part of the application.

  1. All attendees of presubmission meetings are to be kept apprised of any changes to the request.

  1. Maximize use of the County website to keep the public informed of map and text amendments.

Rules of Procedure

  1. Have them be subject to County Council approval as well as by the PB.


All County Hearings

  1. For all County entities which hold hearings, have the procedures as uniform as possible, and made available to the public on the website and in handouts at hearings.

  1. Have a visible, established place in the local newspapers for information on public hearings; rather than in the back of paper under notices. Make it a requirement that hearings be published in the main part of the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times, framed in bold lines.

  1. Allow advance e-mail sign in for those who will testify in person.

  1. Have a place in the County building where testimony can be recorded with web cam technology.

  1. Allow e-mail testimony for a specified period before and after the hearing, and acknowledge receipt of the testimony by automated e-mail response.

  1. Allow testimony by video e-mail.

  1. Use the video screen in the entrance of the Howard Building to display the type of testimony relevant in the hearing or hearings that night.

  1. Do not permit rental of Howard Bldg. rooms for groups just before and during hearings.

  1. For DPZ meetings held in a particular district, if some important topic has been left out, contact the attendees and convene a second meeting.

  1. Ensure the Technical Staff Report is available on time and is posted on the County website by that deadline and, if not, reschedule hearing.

  1. Ensure the Technical Staff Report has a plain English summary at the beginning, explaining the reasons and effects of the proposal, and listing the relevant staff person and contact information (e-mail and phone) to respond to questions from the public.

  1. Broadcast the Council and PB work sessions so the public can see the outcome of their testimony.

  1. Establish a standard which will more frequently require an additional hearing for substantive amendments or those which are “material.” Require that those who testified, be notified in advance of the next hearing.

  1. Have a People’s Counsel as a party which represents the public interest in any type of land use issue in any forum, as do Baltimore, Harford and Montgomery Counties.

Planning Board "Meetings" (non quasi-judicial hearings)

  1. Planning Board meetings and hearings should be held on the same days of each month to facilitate public attendance.

  1. Require a Planning Board “meeting” or “hearing” for all development proposals in all districts, to include commercial, retail and other business uses.

  1. Treat all speakers with respect and make to feel that their participation is valued.

  1. Allow substitution of speakers where hearing is continued; put in written procedures and explain what documentation is needed, if any.

  1. Allow organizations to testify, through representatives who are allowed 5 minutes to speak.

  1. Allow organizations to register annually and designate their representative(s), without needing to provide further written authorization.

  2. Spell out whether established organizations need to formally designate a representative, whether for each hearing or case, for what length of time, and how that designation is to be presented. (Make it as easy as possible.)

  1. Have the PB’s Executive Secretary (this is the Director of DPZ) present but not be seated at the table with the PB at hearings, and work sessions. The PB is a citizen body and should not rely on DPZ for guidance.

  1. Have the PB’s Counsel (the County Solicitor’s office) present at all hearings and work sessions, as the source of legal advice, rather than the developer’s attorney. If necessary, have Counsel available by cell phone.

  1. Allow some latitude in testimony, explicitly assigning it “the weight to which it is entitled.”

Planning Board "Hearings" (quasi-judicial)

  1. Spell out how opponents are to choose a representative to present witnesses, cross-examination, discovery, etc.

  1. Allow any member of the public to be a party and to cross-examine witnesses; requirement is only that they sign up by e-mail or in person, including additional sign up allowed for hearings which are continued.

  1. Make technical staff available for examination/cross-examination concerning the Technical Staff Report.

County Budget Hearings

  1. Post detailed budget information on the County website 15-30 days in advance of hearing, easily visible.


Board Composition

1. Have an independent appointed Zoning Board instead of having the County Council perform this function, to assure the public that decisions are not influenced by campaign contributions.

Zoning Counsel

  1. Note: There is currently a Zoning Board Counsel who represents the public interest; this is a land use attorney on contract to the County.

  1. Have Counsel give an opening statement.

  1. Written opening statements could be submitted in advance to allow the ZB to rule on limiting issues for testimony.

  1. Make DPZ technical staff available for examination/cross-examination concerning the Technical Staff Report.

  1. Alternatively or in addition, allow interrogatories to technical staff.

  1. All Technical Staff Reports be made available at least 15 days in advance of hearing, and posted on County website.


  1. Post proposed amendments to Design Manuals, and other matters, on the website well in advance of hearing. Include a rationale, in plain English.


  1. Make public opinion, as expressed in testimony and minutes of presubmission meetings, a criterion which must be considered, particularly with respect to local and downstream traffic impact.

  1. Require downstream traffic impact be included in traffic studies and establish limits.

  1. Extend APFO to cover government entities, schools.


  1. Require mediation prior to a hearing.

  1. Adopt the federal rule which grants standing to any taxpayer, to appeal a land-use decision (see 2008 Md. House Bill 246).

  1. Expand the right of referendum.


  1. Establish method for agencies to report on status of implementation.

* * *

Submitted by Bridget Mugane on behalf of PELU Committee 3:

Brian England, Chair

William Erskine

Julia Mattis

Bridget Mugane

Sang Oh

Susan Scheidt

Tim Sosinski

Andrew Stack



From: Theo Wimberly []
Sent: Monday, April 07, 2008 3:10 PM
To: Frank Mirable;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; Calvin Ball; Caryn Lasser; Courtney Watson; Greg Fox; Jen Terrasa; Karen Knight; Lisa Nissley; Mary Kay Sigaty; Melania Pender; Sheila Tolliver; Stephanie Scott; Terry Chaconas;;; William E. Erskine;;;;


Task force Members,

I know I promised you that I would have the draft recommendations uploaded on our PELU webpage this afternoon.  Unfortunately, the County's webpage is experiencing technical difficulties and I am unable to upload the recommendations at this time.  Therefore, I have attached the Draft Recommendations document to this message for your information.  Feel free to forward the document to any of your colleagues/constituents/interested parties.  Also, you can direct individuals to our PELU blog site at: 


I will upload the document as soon as possible.  Thanks for your patience.


Friday, April 4, 2008

FW: PELU Task Force

Katherine, in the interest of full disclosure, I feel it is only
appropriate that our full email exchange be provided. I don't want
anyone to get the idea that we did not try to accommodate your schedule.
Unfortunately, with few exceptions, task force members were not
available to meet during the day - Although I would have been happy to.


William E. Erskine, Esquire
Reese & Carney LLP
10715 Charter Drive, Suite 200
Columbia, Maryland 21044
(Office) 410-740-4600
(Fax) 410-730-7729
(Cell) 443-864-8844
Email: WEE

-----Original Message-----
From: William E. Erskine
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2008 9:17 AM
To: Katherine L. Taylor, Esq.
Subject: RE: PELU Task Force

Katherine, we will work the schedule thing out. You can't quit. We
need your input.....And yes there is a Daddy track with sensitivities as
well. Family first!

William E. Erskine

-----Original Message-----
From: "Katherine L. Taylor, Esq." <>
To: "'William E. Erskine'" <>; "'Howard Weinstein'"
Sent: 1/24/2008 8:45 AM
Subject: RE: PELU Task Force


When you said you had a 4th grader to put on the bus at 9:00 AM, I was
because I also have a 4th grader to put on the bus, and I am still
to the whole "mommy track" sterotype! I guess there is also a "daddy

Since the last few meetings have been informational, I suppose I have
missed much that I do not already know. That's good.

The best time for me is during the period from 9-5 daily. I can be
available in the evenings, but typically only when my husband is in town
his travel schedule is unpredictable. The 7-9 AM slot is virtually
impossible for me to make at any time. I hope that when we break into
smaller groups, the groups can schedule meetings that best accommodate
folks.I also am not opposed to an occasional weekend meeting, especially
we are inviting public participants.

Last but not least, thank you both very much for volunteering to chair
task force. It is a huge commitment and your efforts have not and will
go unnoticed!



Katherine L. Taylor, Esquire

From: William E. Erskine []
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2008 6:30 AM
To: Katherine L. Taylor, Esq.; Howard Weinstein
Subject: RE: PELU Task Force

Katherine, you are not alone. I have to put my 4th grader on the bus in
morning, which doesn't come till 9 AM. Others have expressed similar
difficulties with the scheduling of the meetings. Part of what has
influenced the scheduling of the last few meetings is the desire to
accommodate the schedules of DPZ staff. These sessions have been
informational and have involved presentations from DPZ staff. We are
through with the purely informational meetings and I anticipate that the
meeting schedules will be varied in the future in order to better
accommodate the schedules of the task force members. What is your best
time? Personally, I would not be opposed to having a few of our
meetings on
weekends, maybe at a library if we can. Howard, what are your thoughts?

-----Original Message-----
From: Katherine L. Taylor, Esq. []
Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 8:16 PM
To: William E. Erskine; Howard Weinstein
Subject: PELU Task Force

Bill and Howard,

I have not been able to attend the last two meetings of the PELU Task
due to the time of day they were held. I have school-aged daughters and
husband travels frequently, so the 4-6 PM time frame is almost
for me to meet with any consistency. I would like to be involved, but
the meeting times remain, I fear that my involvement will be so limited
I may as well simply withdraw from the task force.

I would like your views as to whether other members have difficulty
meetings at this time during the day, or if I am an exception.



Katherine,  if you would like to comment on the potential recommendations, please feel free.  A lot of task force members have had great difficulty attending a lot of the meetings.  If your schedule permits, feel free to jump back in.  We have a public forum on April 10 if you can make it.





William E. Erskine, Esquire

Reese & Carney LLP

10715 Charter Drive, Suite 200

Columbia, Maryland 21044

(Office) 410-740-4600

(Fax) 410-730-7729

(Cell) 443-864-8844

Email: WEE


Scheduling of Task Force Meetings

Task Force Members and Others,

I accepted the job of participating in this Task Force out of a real interest to provide meaningful input. Unfortunately, the process as to how my input would be received was prohibitive, and I was unable to further participate. Early on, I sent the following message to the then chairs, Bill Erskine and Howard Weinstein:

Bill and Howard,

I have not been able to attend the last two meetings of the PELU Task Force due to the time of day they were held. I have school-aged daughters and my husband travels frequently, so the 4-6 PM time frame is almost impossible for me to meet with any consistency. I would like to be involved, but if the meeting times remain, I fear that my involvement will be so limited that I may as well simply withdraw from the task force.

I would like your views as to whether other members have difficulty making meetings at this time during the day, or if I am an exception. Thanks! Katherine

Since that date, it appears that the meetings of the task force have remained at that afternoon/evening time, despite requests at the first meeting to vary the times so that more members could attend. Further, after the subcommittees were formed, I sent a message to Theo stating:

I am interested in serving on the Comp Zoning committee, but as I have said before, I cannot make meetings that go into the evening hours.

Since that date, I have not heard from the chair of that subcommittee about attending a meeting or providing input in another way.

Why am I publicizing these communications? Because my frustration over my inability to attend these meetings is much like the frustration felt by many citizens who want to be engaged in land use matters but cannot because of competing demands. This lack of participation is many times seen as apathy, and what happens is that only those persons with sufficient time, resources and/or desire remain active and engaged. It is only when a land use decision affects a person directly that the person finds the time, resources or desire to become engaged. For owners and developers, this happens any time there is interest in developing or improving a property. For citizens, this happens only when the land use decision is seen as one that will negatively affect their lives or their property. Thus, the only times the citizenry and the developers are truly engaged are when there are conflicts between what the public wants and what the developer is proposing.

The challenge, and the goal of this task force, is to find ways to increase positive public participation. Public participation benefits not only the persons who may oppose land use decisions, but those who are seeking land use changes or development approvals. This challenge should not be characterized as "citizen vs. developer," such that any change benefitting one will work to the disadvantage of the other. It is to the advantage of all of us (citizens, developers, landowners, lawyers, etc.) to ensure that rules, guidelines and procedures are transparent, straightforward, clear and consisent, and that they are enforced and implemented consistently. A person should not need to hire counsel to find out how to file a zoning application or a zoning action appeal, as the rules should be clear enough for citizens and landowners to understand and for government staff to readily implement. It has been suggested to me that if the rules become too clear, then perhaps I would be creating less paid work for myself (as a land use attorney). To the contrary, my time and the public's dollars could be spent on more meaningful issues, instead of arguing about the intent of an ambiguous rule or whether the letters on a sign were large enough.

At the beginning of the task force effort, then chair Howard Weinstein asked that the members post their top ten list of issues that should be addressed. I responded, in part, as follows:

The rules of the BOA and Hearing Examiner are inconsistent with the Zoning Regulations and the Howard County Code with respect to many procedural requirements. For example, in order to file an appeal of an administrative decision, an appellant is required to make an appointment with DPZ staff to file the appeal. This requirement is not set forth in either the rules, the regulations or the Code, yet when an appellant appears at DPZ to file an appeal, they are given a hard time filing an appeal if they did not previously make an appointment. Further, the procedures regarding presummission meetings are set forth in many different sections of the rules and regulations, and are inconsistent in many respects.

Since I have been unable to participate in this task force, I would urge those of you who have been participating and those of you who will implement certain of the recommended changes, to bear in mind that access, clarity and consistency are of the utmost importance, perhaps even more important at times than substantive changes. For when people believe that they have access to the process, when they understand the rules, and when they believe that the rules are being applied fairly and consistently, they are more accepting of adverse actions.

One way to improve access is to make sure meeting times are convenient and to provide alternate ways for all to be engaged in the process. Had those goals been met with regard to the Task Force meetings, I would have been able to attend the meetings or provide meaningful input in other ways.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

FW: ZRA Batching Bill Streamlines Zoning Regulation AmendmentProcess

Dear PELU Task Force Members:


Councilperson Courtney Watson has introduced a new bill relating to the filing of Zoning Regulation Amendments (ZRA’s).  The bill is scheduled for a public hearing on April 22, 2008 at 7:30 pm in the Bannecker room of the George Howard office building.  Ms. Watson has requested review and comment of the proposed legislation by the task force.  Please post your comments to the blog site or email them to me or James Howard directly.


-----Original Message-----
Courtney Watson []
: Thursday, March 27, 2008 2:24 PM
Courtney Watson
Subject: ZRA Batching Bill Streamlines Zoning Regulation AmendmentProcess


Dear Resident,


I am pleased to share with you a copy of a bill that I have pre-filed today for April introduction at the County Council. This bill affects zoning regulation amendments commonly referred to as ZRAs.  ZRAs sometimes result in positive changes for zoning categories but at other times are attempts to rezone a single property outside the ‘change or mistake’ standard required by the Zoning Board.  
The County Council is the final authority on approval of ZRAs and we sometimes feel besieged by the number and complexity of the ZRAs, particularly when they occur randomly amidst all our other legislative work.  Citizens and citizen groups also find the process difficult to manage.  In order to help citizens and legislators better track the changes brought on by ZRAs, this bill would require that ZRA petitions from developers and/or landowners be introduced at two designated times within the year.  This will allow the Dept. of Planning and Zoning to more efficiently handle the technical staff report requirements and for the Planning Board and the County Council to focus their attention on regulation changes.
Further, batching the ZRA requests will allow citizen groups such as the League of Women Voters, HCCA, GECA, St. Johns’ Neighborhood Association, Friends of Font Hill, the Columbia Association, and the general citizenry to know exactly when potential changes to zoning are being proposed by developers and landowners, so citizen input is increased and transparency in zoning changes improved. 
The public hearing on this bill will be held on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 7:30 p.m. in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building.*  As always, I welcome your input on this issue.  Please contact me by phone or email with comments or questions.   



Courtney Watson
Chairperson - Howard County Council
District 1 Representative
410/313-3297 fax


*Electronic sign up is available for County Council public hearings: