Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sosinski Goals

Tim Sosinski List of 10 Goals – January 29, 2008.

Rather than start with aspersions and angst, we should start with a positive vision. Our land use change process should be:

Comprehensive – “We are dancing with the 10,000 things.” Economics, aesthetics, public facilities, sustainability and 9,996 other aspects need a reasonable level of timely evaluation.

Organized – Starting with early grass roots input, through final approval, the process should be a clear step by step path that is known to all stakeholders.

Inclusive – To quench the community thirst for input, the process should reach out to those who have something to say but are overwhelmed by an un facilitated process.

Democratic – To avoid the competing claims that “my view represents the majority,” from the earliest community input meetings to the final approval by elected officials, decisions should be guided by the clear open votes.

Fair – Those with limited resources should not be shut out by of the process by a lack of access to neutral legal and technical expertise.

Civil – Although emotions often run high when people perceive the smallest threat to their quality of life, the process should emphasize civil discourse and respect for the good intentions of all participants.

Revenue Neutral – The beneficiaries of land use change should pay the full cost of every aspect of the change that benefits them. Fees in advance of services should be paid so that the County can hire everything from facilitators for community input to experts that study transportation, economics, sustainability and ecological issues.

Limited – The process should avoid repetitive testimony, multiple hearings, unending appeals and endless evaluation. In the interest of economics and energy, there should be a level of focus that limits all aspects of the process.

Malleable – We live in an age of continuing advances and need to allow for continuing evolution of how we use our land. Our process needs to allow for continuous evolution in the face of new realities and opportunities.

Future Focused – We need to see beyond the current reality to a future that is far closer to perfection. We need to insure that all that we put in place aims for that higher reality.

The next question is what kind of process will enhance the probability of achieving these benchmarks?

Monday, January 28, 2008

1. Signs on all driveable sides of a project. Signage should be visible on all potential sides of property so that people driving by can see when driving by.

2. A long time ago, DPZ sent out letters whenever something happened with a project, but this is no longer seems to be the case

3. Public participation should be allowed at any time during a development process – and weight should be given to resident testimony – they know more about traffic issues than traffic engineers.

4. Presubmission public meetings are essential and should be required. A developer presented his project to the community and as residents, we were able to see what was planned, and also give some helpful ideas of what would be important to his future residents and a nice selling point.

5. Better follow up for residents who attend hearings, ie, if a project goes to the Board of Appeals, any resident who testified at the hearings should be given notice of any action on the project they testified at.

6. Website has been improved, but its still difficult navigating thru the years of projects. Could confuse people

7. Let people submit testimony via written or email.

8. I recently stumbled upon what happens when DPZ and development are not logically (parcel by parcel) tracked in the various phases of development. Now we have a miserable driving experience, its frustrating and now there’s nothing that can be done.

9. What happens when the general plan does NOT account for future projects? A developer said any raw land, he sees at potential development, does the County?

10. Would like to see friendlier zoning potential for small businesses, esp. along Rt. 1, Rt 40.

Howard's "List of Ten"

I see Bill has been posting ideas. For what it's worth, here's my "List of 10." My list should in no way influence anybody else's. The idea at this stage is to be as free-wheeling as you like.

1. Initial public contacts with land use and DPZ need to be more user-friendly!

Need clearer, bigger and less-cluttered notification signs, better notification and public info at all levels, easy-to-use website. Establish a single well-publicized DPZ Help-Line phone for any and all questions, and better train front-desk staff to lead possibly-clueless visitors by the hand to info they need.

2. Replace adversarial “faux-judicial” process with mediation-based process

Adversarial process is a huge turnoff to the public, which correctly perceives it to be unfair (citizens are the only ones who don’t profit from participation). Mediation-based compromise should be the “default,” with a goal of working out differences before a case ever comes before planning or zoning boards – and pre-submission meetings should be led by a DPZ staff facilitator, NOT by a rep of the developer/petitioner.

3. Results of development must be better

When too many developers build lowest-common-denominator development with legal-minimum regard for aesthetics or environmental impact, and citizens see the lousy results, they conclude: “Why bother?” Developers must be held to higher standards if we want more people to get involved.

4. Switch to neutral, unbiased technical (traffic, noise, environmental, etc.) studies

Replace obviously-biased petitioner/developer-commissioned reports with studies generated by DPZ staff (or contractors with NO ties to area developers). Petitioners/developers would pay the bills.

5. No more “short-cut” rezoning by text amendment

This option subverts the process. People who want to build something not allowed by existing zoning should have to apply for piecemeal rezoning with full due process.

6. Zones have to be more specific to eliminate “bait-and-switch” options

No more 45-use zones, no residential uses under commercial zones – all of which undermines credibility and predictability. Developers should have to apply for the zone that allows what they actually intend to build.

7. Create incentives for developers to be more cooperative with community residents

We’re not trying to punish or chase away developers, so give them reasons to do a better job. They’ll change their behavior if it enhances their bottom line.

8. Schedule regular one-on-one DPZ leadership-staff interviews with local reporters

Nobody reads the legal announcements, we don’t have local TV coverage, and there aren’t enough media outlets for press conferences. Giving reporters regular access to DPZ leaders to talk about current and future land-use issues might generate more and bigger news stories in the Sun and Patuxent Publishing weekly papers – where citizens might actually read them!

9. Comprehensive zoning needs to be split up

In an increasingly crowded county, with more re-zonings likely to be contentious, the current “big boiling cauldron” model of comp zoning is too complex and rushed to allow for good decisions. Break it up into 3-5 logical regions at 1-2-year intervals, and maybe try a charrette-style process.

10. Consider creating an independent zoning board

Having legislators also be regulators is a credibility-killing combo. When developers give campaign contributions to council members who then rule on land use as the zoning board, that invites the appearance of impropriety even where there is none.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Constructive Comment #2

Many task force members have expressed frustration with the difficulty they experience when trying to become informed about the processes and procedures of various zoning matters within the county. To address this issue, I would like to suggest that DPZ endeavor to inform the public about the existence and role of the Howard County Zoning Counsel.

Title 10, Subtitle 16 of the Howard County Code permits the County Council to employ Zoning Counsel (currently, Eileen Powers, Esq.). I have set forth below the relevant sections of the law that describes the role of Zoning Counsel. One of the statutory functions of Zoning Counsel is to inform the public about the process and procedures of various zoning matters. Zoning Counsel cannot provide legal advice or represent a private party, but can inform the public about the procedures involved in zoning matters. The role and function of Zoning Counsel is not well known to the public. As you can see from the statutory excerpt below, Zoning Counsel can even attend certain pre-submission community meetings if directed by the County Council.

My Constructive Comment #2 is for DPZ to inform the public about the existence and role of the Howard County Zoning Counsel.

*Editor's note: Section 1 of C.B. 77, 1995, repealed former subtitle 10, §§ 16.1000--16.1012, relating to growth management and derived from C.B. 43, 1989; C.B. 98, 1989; C.B. 104, 1989; C.B. 55, 1990; C.B. 61, 1990; C.B. 62, 1990; and C.B. 12, 1991. Subsequently, C.B. 37, 2000 added a new section 16.1000 pertaining to zoning counsel.

Sec. 16.1000. Zoning Counsel.
(a) The County Council may employ a Zoning Counsel on a part-time, contractual basis. The Zoning Counsel shall be a member in good standing of the Bar of the Maryland Court of Appeals and at the time of appointment shall have been actively engaged in the general practice of law for at least 5 years.
(b) A decision to enter into a contract with an individual to perform the duties of Zoning Counsel shall be made by an affirmative vote of at least 3 Council members. A decision to terminate a Zoning Counsel's contract shall be made by an affirmative vote of at least 4 Council members.
(c) The Zoning Counsel shall appear at all zoning board hearings on requests for piecemeal zoning map amendments for the purposes of producing evidence and testimony supporting comprehensive rezoning and facilitating the compilation of a complete record.
(d) In the performance of these duties the Zoning Counsel may:
(1) Present evidence and witnesses;
(2) Examine and cross-examine witnesses;
(3) Present argument; and
(4) Take any other action necessary to perform these duties.
(e) The budget for the Zoning Counsel shall be included in the County Council budget.
(f) The Zoning Counsel may retain expert witnesses and compensate them to the extent that the Council budget includes funds for such compensation.
(g) The Zoning Counsel shall be available:
(1) To any person interested in any zoning matter to advise as to procedures before a county agency or board, provided that when doing so the Zoning Counsel does not engage in the practice of law or render individual legal advice; and
(2) To any group to speak about zoning procedures in the county.
(h) The Zoning Counsel shall attend certain pre-submission community meetings, as necessary. The County Council shall determine whether or not the Zoning Counsel shall attend certain pre-submission community meetings to advise any person or group of procedural matters.
(i) The Zoning Counsel:
(1) Does not represent the county, any government agency or any private party;
(2) Is not a party and does not have a right of appeal in connection with any case before the Board of Appeals;
(3) May not represent any client involving land use in Howard County; and
(4) May not represent any client before the Zoning Board or Board of Appeals for 1 year after leaving the Office of Zoning Counsel.
(i) On or before July 1 of each year, the Zoning Counsel shall submit to the Council and the County Executive a report on the activities of the office in the past year.
(C.B. 37, 2000; C.B. 58, 2005; C.B. 8, 2006, § 1)
Secs. 16.1001--16.1012. Reserved.

Constructive Comment #1

A recent amendment to the Howard County Code requires that notice of Pre-submission Community Meetings be mailed to any community association that represents the area of the subject property or any adjacent properties. I have found it very difficult and very time consuming (i.e. expensive) to properly identify these community associations.

To my knowledge, DPZ does not maintain a current list of community associations operating within the county. There used to be such a list, but it is not kept current with respect to the name and proper mailing address of the president of the various community associations. Even with a current and accurate list of the community associations, there is not a convenient or accurate way of determining what specific area each association represents.

I would like to see DPZ afford all community associations the opportunity to register with the department in order to facilitate the notification process. Once registered, it should be incumbent on the association to notify DPZ of a change in the name of its president, or a change in the mailing address of its president. It would also be very helpful if the specific areas represented by each association could be determined from a map maintained by DPZ. Alternatively, each community association could submit a list of parcel/lot numbers that they represent. This way we could be sure that all interested community associations respresenting a given area are given timely notice of land use proceedings.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm so frustrated.

I'm a Howard County resident. I have a job, my husband has a job, we both work ridiculous hours to be able to afford a house and continue to live in Howard County. We have a little girl, who took her own sweet time coming into our lives. For over 10 years, I contributed to the Howard County Schools tax base and one day I hope my daughter will benefit from the wonderful Ho. Co. School system. For the most part, I am proud to live in Howard County, and have spent countless hours, weeks, months and years trying to make my neighborhood a better place to live by being active in my HOA, attending hearings, doing research at DPZ, just being a an active part of the community. I want, like everyone else, to live in a nice community. I'm just more outspoken than most about what I want that community to look like.

This task force is supposed to be about public engagement. There is nothing about the meeting times that are at all engaging the the general public of Howard County. Most people work - at a job where output is required. Most general, everday, regular citizens of Howard County work during the day and then have a commute. So why isn't the whole PELU task force and all its lofty goals of public engagement more regular Howard County citizen friendly?

I don't get to bill my hours to a client, I don't get to add this taskforce to my CV, it won't add to my client list and it won't decrease my tax bill and the experience will not add any income to my household. By the time this taskforce is done, I will have spent several hundred dollars for childcare and for what? After attending 4 task force meetings, it is quite clear that the public really isn't welcome to talk about land use. Except for those dog and pony shows before a general plan every 10 years.

The meeting times are not citizen friendly and I feel it is very important for me to speak out publicly and state this.

"Homework" List: Your 10 Pet Peeves

Hi, Everyone!

Let's see if I can master this new-fangled technology...

At our Jan 24 meeting, we decided to set you all loose on the assignment to compile your personal lists of the "Top Ten Things I Hate" about the current land use processes.

We realize you may have considerably MORE than 10 things you hate and believe need to be changed. But for purposes of shaping our group's direction, and keeping things from getting too unwieldy, please limit your list to what you consider to be your 10 most important (there may be opportunities to bring up other items later).

So what sort of things are we looking for?

Based on the task force's overall assignment to focus on ways to boost public participation in the land use process, your list can include anything you think impedes, limits or discourages public involvement. These can come from anywhere and everywhere in the land use process -- general plan, comprehensive zoning, piecemeal map amendments, text amendments, zoning board, planning board, etc.

You can examine public info and education efforts, the DPZ website, how easy or tough it is to find info at the "front desk" or on the phone. Note any points in or characteristics of the various land use proceedings which make people want to run screaming into the night (I've got a bunch of those :o).

If you think of specific laws and regulations needing to be changed, mention that.

For now, please keep it short! How short? No more than a sentence or two for each of your 10 points. If you can include both what's wrong and how you'd fix it in your 2 sentences, that's great. If not, don't worry about the complexities yet. We'll expand on these things later.

At this point in the process, we're looking for broad strokes which will help us define specific directions for us to explore in the next few months.

Once you have your list, what should you do with it? If you can figure out how to post it to the blog, do that. If you can't, then you can simply e-mail it to everyone on the task force mailing list (which you should have if you saved any of the group e-mails which have gone out already).

Now that we're heading toward things we actually think need to be changed in order to enhance public participation in land use matters, I'm looking forward to seeing what y'all come up with!

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me or Bill.

Thanks very much!

Howard W

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Start Time: 4:10 p.m.

End Time: 6:00 p.m.

Members present: Ada Louise Bohorfoush, Brian England, Judy Fisher-George, James Howard, II, Cathy Hudson, William Lewis, Julia Mattis, Frank Mirabile, Bridget Mugane, Debbie Nix, Sang Oh, Deb Poquette, Susan Scheidt, Ronald Schimel, Tim Sosinski, Andrew Stack, Katherine Taylor, Howard Weinstein, Shari Zaret.

Also present: Kimberley Flowers, Caryn Lasser, Stephanie Scott, Theodore Wimberly

Howard Weinstein opened the meeting.

Tom Ballentine, Policy Director for Home Builders introduced himself to the committee.

The Minutes for the first task force meeting (January 9,2008) were approved. The minutes have been posted to the website.

Now available on the website is a link which directs to the blog site. (http://howardcountypelu.blogspot.com/).

Also a questions and comments link has been added to the website. Questions/comments will come to Theodore Wimberly’s email address. Once questions/comments are received by Wimberly, he will forward them to the entire task force. This allows for greater public involvement.

Theodore Wimberly will send an email with Mina Hilsenrath’s (DPZ) power point presentation presented at the last meeting to all task force members. Also, the presentation will be posted on the task force’s website.

Marsha McLaughlin, DPZ Director provided an in-depth presentation about Comprehensive Zoning. She began by passing out two hand outs.

  1. Plan English Version

Summary of County Code requirements on Comprehensive Zoning August 16, 2006

  1. Legalese version

Subtitle 2. Zoning


After the presentation, Ms. McLaughlin opened the floor to questions and comments.

Task force’s issues and comments

  • Unreasonable to require people to return to multiple public hearing to testify.

  • Problem with notification to the public. Concerned testimony comes too late in the process to make an impact on final decisions about rezoning.

  • It is exhausting following changes/modifications/amendments in bills during the process. Appears to be a moving target.

  • Notification process does not notify property owners of rezoning of their property.

  • DPZ should provide a list of holes in the Comp Zoning process, so that a sub-committee can study the issues.

  • The county appears to reaching a tipping-point with growth. There does not appear to be much balance with adequate environment and adequate facilities.

  • Various publications should be used to improve communication with the public (ie. Columbia Flier, Howard County Times, Laurel Leader, Gazette, etc).

  • The articles should be fashioned in such a manner that they cannot be overlooked or placed in a section of a paper people read most often.

  • Presubmission signs are effective.

  • Frame information for advertisements so it captures the public’s attention.

  • Press conferences on specific topics should be given. The Comprehensive Zoning plan is too general and broad to cover.

  • The web should be better utilized to broadcast notice prior to the process getting underway.

  • European models of notification should be studied.

  • Publicity/notice should be placed in places many people frequent, such as the Mall in Columbia.

  • Does County-wide Comprehensive Zoning make sense? Pros and cons were given.

  • Individual hearings should be held on text amendments only.

The task force made the following decisions:

There should be another informational meeting.

The next meeting will address the piecemeal zoning and zoning regulation amendments processes.

The members asked for someone from the Planning Board and the Department of Public Works to attend the meeting on the 29th.

Ms. McLaughlin suggested Mark DeLuca as a good candidate.

The next meetings will be held:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

4-6 p.m.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

4-6 p.m.

The meeting was adjourned at 6:00 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Stephanie Scott

Theodore Wimberly

- 1 -

Friday, January 18, 2008

Public Engagement in Land Use (PELU) Task Force Meeting January 29th, 2008


Dear Ms. CitaraManis, Mr. Grabowski, Ms. Dombrowski, Mr. Rosenbaum, and Mr. Alexander:


As you may be aware, the County Council recently passed County Resolution CR 132-2007 authorizing the creation of a citizens task force to study and report on the opportunities for public engagement in the county land use process.  Howard Weinstein and I have been designated as Co-Chairs of the PELU task force.  To date, the task force has met on three occasions.  The purpose of these initial meetings has been to educate our members about the existing processes and opportunities for public engagement in the land use process.  Mina Hilsenrath has spoken to our group and provided valuable incite into the process of updating the General Plan.  Marsha McLaughlin also spoke to our group and explained the processes related to Comprehensive Zoning and Piecemeal Rezoning.


During our most recent task force meeting the members requested Co-Chair Weinstein and I to invite the members of the Planning Board to attend our January 29th, 2008 meeting.  The task force members would be very interested in having an open discussion with members of the Planning Board in order to gain a perspective of how members of the public can effectively participate in the public land use process.  Our task force members are interested in having a discussion about the general processes of land use planning and understand that it would not be appropriate for Planning Board members to discuss any particular case that has or may come before the Planning Board.  With this in mind, we would like to extend an invitation to each member of the Planning Board to attend our January 29th meeting.  Our meeting will be held in the Ellicott Room and will begin at 4 pm and will end at 6 pm.


If January 29th is not convenient for you, please let us know and we can make arrangements to reschedule our agenda.  Thank you very much.  We hope you will be able to participate.





William E. Erskine, Co-Chair

Howard Weinstein, Co-Chair



For more information about the PELU Task Force please visit the county website.  http://www.howardcountymd.gov/CountyCouncil/CC_PELU.htm



Thursday, January 17, 2008



January 15, 2008


  • Introduction of any new Members

  • Approval of Minutes

  • Issues/Announcements (Chairpersons, Task force membership)

-Blog site accessible from PELU website

-Approved Minutes on website

  • DPZ Presentation (Marsha McLaughlin Director)

  • Future Meetings

  • Open Floor

Next meeting: January 24, 2008, Ellicott Room, 4 – 6 pm

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Start Time: 4:10 p.m.

End Time: 6:10 p.m.

Members present: Ada Louise Bohorfoush, Patrick Crowe, Brian England, William Erskine, Judy Fisher-George, James Howard, II, Cathy Hudson, William Lewis, Julia Mattis, Frank Mirabile, Bridget Mugane, Debbie Nix, Deb Poquette, Susan Scheidt, Ronald Schimel, Paul Skalny, Tim Sosinski, Andrew Stack, Katherine Taylor, Howard Weinstein, Shari Zaret.

Also present: Kimberley Flowers, Caryn Lasser, Stephanie Scott, Theodore Wimberly

Bill Erskine and Howard Weinstien opened the meeting.

Cathy Ward (representing NAIOP) introduced herself to the committee.

A PELU blog site (http://howardcountypelu.blogspot.com/) was started by Co-Chair Erskine.

  • Members should get an email invitation for membership in the blog

  • To participate you will need a google password

Consensus was reached to allow the public to view postings to the blog site, however posting would be limited to taskforce members.

Co-Chair Weinstein provided 2 hand outs to members. attendees

  1. Memo called 3 guiding principles

  2. Copy of several newspaper clips of articles

The minutes from the January 3, 2007 meeting were approved.

A discussion was held regarding the structure of the final report due in May. The question was raised as to whether the group wanted to do a consensus report or include minority opinions.

  • It was decided by the members that the discussion was premature and that the tone of the report would “crystallize” in time.

  • It had been mentioned that clear objectives should be used to formally evaluate any proposals to be included in the report.

There was a discussion about the mission and objective DPZ.

  • Kimberley Flowers, DPZ Deputy Director, offered a concise explanation: guide, control growth, manage, or enhance the quality of life in Howard County. Mrs. Flowers also suggested that the mission and objectives could be found on DPZ’s website.

Mina Hilsenrath, DPZ Division Chief gave a power point presentation on the General Plan process entitled the “Overview of Howard County General Plan 2000 the Plan and the Process”. The presentation reviewed the state and local code/charter requirements, discussed the timing of prior General Plans, and discussed the General Plan Process.

Task force Discussion Points

    • How is notice given to public of changes in documents?

      • It has been suggested that a summary document be included in the front of the document listing proposed changes.

    • How does the public know that input is being considered or received (better feedback)?

      • Maybe an auto reply should be sent

    • Smaller regional forums are need

    • The county should work with the local newspapers to format a section for notices

    • How could the public get informed in the General Plan monitoring process

      • Flowers would bring information to the next meeting.

Hilsenrath promised to provide for the task force members an electronic version of the presentation.

She also provided a copy of the May 1999 version of the Howard County General Plan Summary of Process and Requirements. Many publications were made available for viewing to anyone who was interested.

The task force made the following decisions:

The next meetings will be held:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

4-6 p.m.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

4-6 p.m.

At the next meeting Marsha McLaughlin, DPZ Director has been invited to do a presentation about Comprehensive Zoning.

The meeting on the 24th will be on the piecemeal/change mistakes and ZRA process.

The meeting was adjourned at 6:10 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Stephanie Scott

Theodore Wimberly

Friday, January 11, 2008

Kudos to the Department of Planning and Zoning

If you haven't visited DPZ's website recently, you should. You are in for a real treat. The Department has undertaken what appears to be a near complete overhaul of the site. It is now wonderfully user friendly and intuitive. As always, the site contains a wealth of information and resources on land use and development issues throughout the county, but now you can actually find it. Links to related information are intelligently placed throughout the site making it very user friendly. I was most pleased to see that the Design Manuals which are in PDF format are now fully text searchable. The old PDF versions were merely non-searchable scans of the document which made it nearly impossible to find what you are looking for. Kudos to DPZ!

Howard County Department of Planning & Zoning Mission Statement

OUR MISSION To create collaborative, innovative plans and implement strategies that effectively address growth and redevelopment challenges. DPZ seeks to enhance Howard County’s high quality of life, prosperity, and stewardship of our natural and cultural resources.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Obstacle to Public Engagement

In response to Howard's homework assignment, I would like to offer my early thoughts on obstacles to public participation in land use processes. During Mina Hilzenrath's presentation on the process of updating the General Plan, I was struck by the incredible amount of time that is required in order to participate in the drafting and revision of the General Plan. Public input in this process occurs over the course of nearly a year. I wonder how many members of the public are in a position to make such a significant time committment. If you haven't already, please take some time to review the 2000 General Plan. It will give you an appreciation for the amount of work (and time) required to produce such an encompassing and well researched document. Are there any volunteers to serve on the next General Plan Task Force? I'm sure Mina is already looking for volunteers!

Link to General Plan http://www.co.ho.md.us/DPZ/dpzpublicationsreports.htm#gp2000

Wednesday, January 9, 2008



Hi, gang --

Thanks for "choosing" me as co-chair.  Who knew nobody else would be clamoring for the "honor"??  :o) 

Let me stress at the outset that I am NOT a planning and zoning expert.  (Some of the jargon and mumbo-jumbo still makes my eyes glaze over.) And those of you coming in from the business and development side, please be assured I'm not anti-development. But I believe development can be done better than it's being done now (more on that and how it fits with "Public Engagement in Land Use" at a future date).

I just wanted to tell you a little about me and my perspective, since most of you don't know me at all.  I hail from
Long Island, NY, once an ideal suburban "Wonder Years" place to grow up. Unfortunately, planning and zoning proved to be alien concepts there and it became an overcrowded, overdeveloped parody of what it once was and could have been. Paradise lost.

I moved to Howard County in 1989. We lived in an apartment in Hickory Ridge/Columbia for two years, and I was really impressed with the Rouse vision of suburbia. I'd hoped that Columbia would serve as a good example for the rest of the county. That proved not to be the case, and post-Rouse, I think Columbia has lost that lovin' feelin', too. We bought our Elkridge townhome in '91. I was president of my HOA for 7 years, and on my HOA board for another 3.

I've been a writer for 35 years (15 books, some TV, radio and film stuff, public information, newsaper and magazine articles and columns, even comic books). I've taught writing classes on and off for 25 years. And I've been a dog trainer for 10 years (a job which opens up all sorts of interesting windows on behavior, both human and canine). 

The common thread linking almost everything I've done has been clear communication of information.

15 years ago, when I innocently wandered into the '93 comprehensive zoning extravaganza, I (like most people) knew virtually nothing about planning and zoning.
When I wandered out, I didn't know much more.  How things would change!

In 2001, as HOA prez, I innocently wandered into hearings for a piecemeal rezoning case affecting properties near my community. Only when zoning board chairman Vernon Grey uttered the chilling words "Who's representing the protestants?" did I and the presidents of two adjacent HOAs suddenly discover (to our horror) that we had to become instant zoning experts. With no warning, were expected to mount a full rebuttal case against one of the most successful veteran zoning attorneys in the county.  (We won, by the way...)

Then came...(drumroll, please)... the Great 2003-ish Comprehensive Rezoning Epic... (is it over yet??!?)

I came out of these experiences astonished at the dysfunctional circus that passed for Howard County's zoning process. It is aggressively irrational, arcane and counterproductive. It not only discourages public participation, it also makes it nearly impossible for good planning and zoning decisions to EVER get made.

Since then, I've been writing about this stuff in local newspaper op-ed columns and letters to the editors. I've pestered members of the last 3 county councils and the past and current executive administrations about reforms which are looooooooooong overdue.

So now this task force comes up.  Why would I wanna co-chair this thing (other the previously-mentioned masochistic streak)?

Because "Well, that's how we've always done it" is the world's worst reason to maintain status quo.
Hardly anybody likes the way we now do planning and zoning, so it's insane to keep doing it the same way.

From the notification signs all the way to what finally gets built, virtually every aspect of our existing planning and zoning process impinges on "Public Engagement in Land Use."  If we can make that linkage, then it's fair game. If that means recommending changes in actual zoning laws, rules and regulations, then that's what we're gonna do. So open up your imaginations, dredge up your frustration and bring it all to the table.

We certainly won't all agree on everything we discuss. And there's no such thing as a perfect P & Z process. But the present one stinks, and there are so many ways we can make it better. So don't limit yourselves to baby steps and incremental improvements. I want this task force to come up with reform ideas that revolutionize the way we do P & Z here..."To boldly go where NO task force has gone before!"

Thanks, everybody! Let's do some good work and have some fun doing it.

Best regards,
Howard Weinstein

P.S. I thought my phone number was on the roster, but it wasn't.  It's 410-796-5349 (please don't call after 9 PM...thanks)




Thursday, January 3, 2008

Start time: 4:10 p.m.

End time: 6:05 p.m.

Members present: Ada Louise Bohorfoush, Patrick Crowe, Brian England, William Erskine, Judy Fisher-George, James Howard, II, Cathy Hudson, William Lewis, Julia Mattis, Frank Mirabile, Bridget Mugane, Debbie Nix, Sang Oh, Deb Poquette, Susan Scheidt, Ronald Schimel, Paul Skalny, Tim Sosinkski, Andrew Stack, Katherine Taylor, Howard Weinstein, Shari Zaret,

Also present: Kimberley Flowers, Caryn Lasser, Lisa Nissley, Stephanie Scott, Theodore Wimberly

Welcolme was given for Mary Kay Sigaty and Jennifer Terrasa by Caryn Lasser and Lisa Nissley.

Introductions were made by all present. William Erskine and Howard Weinstein volunteered to co-chair the committee.

The meeting then opened up into a discussion on the role/functions of the task force. Below is a summary of the suggestions/concerns offered by the task force membership:

  • Task force should breakdown into smaller subcommittees.

  • Task force should be provided a basic orientation/education of the land use processes and supplied simplified information of land use procedures.

  • People who have experience working with the system should come to task force meetings to provide first hand input.

  • Task forces should set up a forum where public can give input; in public facilities around the county

  • Members questioned the general direction of task force.

  • Future task force subcommittees should break into regions groups.

  • Concern for the amount of time scheduling and doing town hall type small meetings. Task force members have enough information they can share.

  • Task force members should develop a list of 5-10 issues to be discussed by the task force.

  • The task force should create a mailing list/blog for members to share information.

  • Several members volunteered to work in the drafting of the final report.

  • Some members believe public input is often welcomed, however, there is seldom any reaction to it.

  • DPZ should do a presentation to explain the process thoroughly.

  • The public should be provided 15 minutes “open mike” period for input at each meeting

  • The task force’s emphasis should be on pubic engagement/contact not changing the DPZ process.

The task force made the following decisions:

The next two meetings will be held:

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

4-6 p.m.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

4-6 p.m.

The next meeting will concentrate on educating the members about the DPZ Process

Kimberley Flowers (KF) will do a presentation.

Members will have a chance to respond/follow up on handouts from Kimberley Flowers about DPZ

Members will provide 5-10 bullet points about key issues they believe should be addressed

A GTV DVD entitled, “The Land Plan” was played for the attendees.

The meeting was adjourned at 6:05 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Stephanie Scott

Theodore Wimberly

Friday, January 4, 2008

Task Force Calendar of Events

Thursday, January 3, 2008 (4 pm - 6 pm) - Initial organizational meeting of the PELU task force

Wednesday, January 9, 2008 (4 pm - 6 pm) - Task force meeting & DPZ presentation on current opportunities for public engagement in land use process (part 1).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 (4 pm - 6 pm) - Task force meeting & DPZ presentation on current opportunities for public engagement in land use process (part 2).

Thursday, January 24, 2008 (4 pm - 6 pm) - Task force meeting.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 (4 pm - 6 pm) - Task force meeting.

All task force meetings are open to the public.