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Anne Arundel executive moves to control ‘reckless’ development

"We were the only county in central Maryland that did not have (a fair housing ordinance)," said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman. (AP File Photo/Brian Witte)

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman says the county needs to overhaul its land-use and development rules to better control growth. (AP File Photo/Brian Witte)

A year after Steuart Pittman took office, the horse trainer turned Anne Arundel County executive is aiming to rein in “reckless” growth in the jurisdiction.

Taming development in the county, Pittman said, is the major reason voters backed him in 2018. Piecing together a strategy that balances the need for new development with protecting the county’s natural resources won’t be easy, Pittman said at a news conference in Annapolis on Tuesday.

“There’s always a tension between the development community that wants to build and the communities that surround it, and that’s the needle we have to thread,” Pittman said.

Pittman’s move to revamp of how the county decides what type of building is permitted, however, already has detractors.

Steven D. Hyatt, an attorney at Hyatt & Weber focusing on real estate law and business land use and zoning, said after the news conference that Pittman’s administration has made development more difficult.

“The biggest change I can see so far is the land use application (review)” Hyatt said, adding that the window to ask for changes in land use previously stayed open for six months but now closed after 30 days this year.

That process wrapped up on Nov. 15. The county said it received 188 applications for land-use changes.

Anne Arundel County needs new development, Hyatt said, to generate the revenue Pittman needs to pay for various initiatives. Taxes already went up in the last year.

“Based on what he’s talking about it’s likely to happen again,” Hyatt said.

But Pittman, county staff, residents, and activists on Tuesday said changes are needed.

The exercise in putting together the development plan is expected to take eight years. But supporters of Pittman’s revamped approach said it will boost community engagement and bring consistency and transparency to land use decisions.

Kimberly Golden Brandt, director of Smart Growth Maryland, said what’s proposed in Anne Arundel County reflects a similar strategy adopted in Frederick County.

“I’m very excited the county has embraced this approach to planning. It’s a best practice that I’m starting to see embraced in other counties as well,” Brandt said.

One of the major changes to the process comes from how Anne Arundel County plans to assemble the new General Development Plan that guides development through 2040.

This new process will emphasize local input by having small area planning occur prior to rezoning, Pittman said, as opposed to the other way around, which was the county’s previous practice.

The new development plan will involve the adoption of at least seven plans for county “geographic subregions” as stipulated by a bill the Anne Arundel County Council passed earlier this year. Those plans will consider elements such as cultural and historic resources, land use and regional planning goals.

While the county previously had development plans in place, Pittman said, a lack of consistency in enforcing zoning regulations and indifference to the 2009 plan by previous county councils undermined the efficacy of those strategies.

Because county codes have not been updated for quite a while, Pittman said, a lot happens in the jurisdiction’s project review “that doesn’t normally happen in development.”

One example, Pittman said, is relying on a procedure called modifications, which are made by a planning officer, that allow for exceptions to zoning without public input.

“That’s been the frustration for citizens. Most of the large development projects have relied on some modifications to be able to be approved,” he said.

 


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