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)


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