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3/26/24 Testimony for County Council Work Session on "Compromise" Bill (9-24)

Updated: 4 days ago

Speaker 1 - Pat Keller 

Good evening, my name is Pat Keller, and I am the co-founder of an advocacy group called We The People - Baltimore County. We The People consists of long-time County residents with decades of professional experience working with developers and attorneys to create good plans and projects. We were formed to advocate for the County to make the most of Master Plan 2030 - and its effective implementation.


Three of us will speak tonight, myself, Marsha McLaughlin and Klaus Philipsen.


As an advocate of home ownership for working families, I would like to request that the Baltimore County Council both: (i) suspend further action on Bill 9-24, otherwise known as the "Compromise Bill" for mixed-use projects; and (ii) convene a task force of community leaders and planning specialists to develop legislation that will reflect community input, garner community support, and meaningfully address both the housing crisis and the glut of underperforming commercial land in our County. 


The County Council rejected the County Executive's mixed-use bill on the grounds that it was allegedly rushed and not reflective of community concerns.  Then, the Council introduced Bill 7-24 as a "compromise" for mixed-use projects just twelve days later. This bill, much like the County Executive’s bill, did not have community input and was withdrawn. 


Bill 9-24 was also rushed, and will not change the status quo or meaningfully address key challenges.  There is also concern that the Council will turn its attention elsewhere after passage. As a result, the most prudent course is to suspend action and instead engage the community through a task force to develop a "Consensus Bill" that can actually address our challenges, while preserving our quality of life and the reasons why families want to live in our County.  The Task Force would have Bill 9-24 to evaluate and improve upon.  


The Task Force should be appointed by the County Council and directed to complete its work within 60 days. Ideally, it will be finished by mid-June to facilitate application during the CZMP.  Designation of some high-priority redevelopment locations during the CZMP is desirable. 

 

Speaker 2 - Marsha McLaughlin 

We support use of an overlay district as a good means of selecting aging non-residential sites that are appropriate for mixed-use redevelopment. However, there are a number of issues that should be addressed to ensure that redevelopment of each site is appropriate, attractive and compatible with surrounding properties.  We recommend that a Task Force and/or amendments address the following:   


  1. Clarify that design quality/compatibility with surrounding residential areas is critical, as is early public input. The transition to adjoining communities is critical to this bill’s success.  

  2. Require a pre-submission community input meeting (before official submittal to County). The meeting notice should be posted on the property and mailed to adjoining property owners and neighboring community associations two weeks prior to the meeting.

  3. Require the Design Review Panel to review the initial design concept before County agencies perform their review (this avoids wasting money and battles over redesign).

  4. Key development requirements: 

    1. Maximum height of 4 stories on corridors; 6 stories for redevelopment of regional malls (e.g., Owings Mills, White Marsh, Security Square, Golden Ring), with potential for 8 stories in certain circumstances. The FAR (floor area ratio) should not be used as it is confusing, misleading and can generate high-rise building heights.  

    2. Transition to adjoining residential neighborhoods is very important and can be achieved via reduced height, building architecture (design, materials), open space and/or landscaped buffers.

    3. Pedestrian, bike and open space connectivity to adjacent neighborhoods should be required.  Projects should be required to follow County’s Complete Streets requirements.

    4. Regarding public open space, clarify that the required minimum (20%) applies to the net site area. Rooftop and interior open space should be permitted but not counted towards required public open space.

    5. Green building design should be required - minimum of LEED Silver (or equivalent).

    6. County parking standards do not promote shared use and result in excess unused pavement. Recommend use of the Urban Land Institute’s shared parking model to minimize excessive surface and structured parking.

    7. State/County standard on stormwater management focuses on small, frequent storm events. Ideally should also require or provide an incentive to handle runoff from larger storm events and/or adjacent properties.

  5. Adequate Public Facilities - many citizens lack confidence in the County’s APF regulations for sewer, schools and traffic - either because they are not sufficient or not enforced. While APF cannot be addressed in this bill, it would be useful to review APF regulations in other Central Maryland jurisdictions to identify best practices that could help Baltimore County.


Speaker 3 - Klaus Philipsen

  • We support the creation of mixed use zoning and expanding the allowed uses in business zones to permit residential use by right.

  • We support expanded construction of residential units which are in short supply in underutilized commercial areas that are in oversupply

  • We support the notion of nodes in the County Masterplan and the incentive for investment inside of those commercial nodes.


Bill 9-24 addresses these issues in a variety of ways.


However, as a group, We The People thinks that the bill will only be effective in achieving substantially more housing or in directing substantial investment into the nodes if the bill is passed alongside a vote where to apply the overlay on a broad scale.


The time to locate where this overlay should be applied is now when the Masterplan and its Nodes are still fresh in everybody’s mind and the CZMP process is still underway, even though we believe that the bill could also be used to designate overlay areas in between CZMP periods.


The purpose of the bill will not be achieved if the overlay option is only available every four years and if it is applied only when the Councilperson representing a district feels like doing so. The County in its entirety is facing a set of demographic and economic challenges that need to be addressed by thinking of Baltimore County as One County and not district by district.


The bill needs to be tweaked until members of the Council and the public feel comfortable in applying it on a broader scale and until it is crystal clear in its purpose. To this end we recommend referring it to a workgroup with additional options for public input as expressed by my We The People peers and zoning experts Pat Keller and Marsha McLaughlin.

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