November 22, 2017
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  • Revitalizing Pasadena’s commercial districts was a goal stated in the last Lake Shore and Pasadena/Marley Neck Small Area Plans.
    Photo by Zach Sparks
    Revitalizing Pasadena’s commercial districts was a goal stated in the last Lake Shore and Pasadena/Marley Neck Small Area Plans.

Small Area Plans May Solve A Big Problem

Zach Sparks
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July 12, 2017

Making monumental zoning changes without the General Development Plan (GDP) as a blueprint is like planning a cross-country road trip without a map or GPS. But what happens when that plan is flawed or not followed?

That’s the fear of some Pasadena residents who failed to see desired changes after the last General Development Plan was rolled out in 2009. The GDP was intended to establish a vision for the future based on balanced growth and sustainability, community preservation and enhancement, environmental stewardship, and quality public services.

Some Pasadena residents felt that their input wasn’t taken seriously. “It was basically the county’s plan and we were window dressing,” said Henry Schmidt, one of 16 members who served on the Lake Shore Small Area Plan Committee.

The 163-page Lake Shore plan was one of 16 Anne Arundel County Small Area Plans assembled between 1998 and 2004 and used in forming the 2009 GDP. Those plans contained recommendations for future land use; facility and infrastructure needs; and areas to be targeted for revitalization, mixed-use development or land preservation. The 16 Small Area Plans were the byproduct of months – in some cases, years – of work on behalf of committees comprising community leaders appointed by County Executive Janet Owens.

Bonnie Brumwell Hoyas recalls that the Pasadena/Marley Neck Small Area Plan Committee congregated once every two weeks for maybe a year.

“We would take each area at a time and discuss what would or wouldn’t work,” said Brumwell Hoyas, who served as vice chair of her committee. “People were trying to get the amount of industrial [facilities] down and have something more conducive to the area.”

Schmidt remembers his group meeting once a month over a two-year period. “The zoning person has no real knowledge of how it affects the community,” said Schmidt, emphasizing why Anne Arundel County needs input from people like himself, a 10th-generation Anne Arundel County resident. “We had everyone from business people to attorneys to large-property owners on our committee, and most of them had a vested interest in seeing the plan work.”

Although a Fort Smallwood boat ramp was completed in 2016 and public water access has improved, several other committee suggestions – major improvements to Mountain and Fort Smallwood roads, widening of Hog Neck Road, and a centralized community center in Pasadena – have not been realized.

Former District 3 councilman Ron Dillon said some of those changes will have to come eventually, but others are “budget-related high-ticket items.” A state highway, Mountain Road has seen some improvements, but property owners are reluctant to sell their land when the road and shoulders could then be expanded to their doors.

“I hope the citizens didn’t get discouraged,” Dillon said of the Small Area Plan Committees. “It wasn’t always smooth and it wasn’t always timely, but the timeframe and process allowed for a lot of public input.”

With the next GDP process expected to be completed by 2019, there is no guarantee that the county will use Small Area Plans, although Schuh will garner community input.

“We have not nailed down the final details, but there will ample opportunities for the public to weigh in over the next fiscal year with their concerns, especially on infrastructure needs,” said Owen McEvoy, a public information officer for County Executive Steve Schuh.

The Department of Planning and Zoning began the scoping process for a comprehensive transportation master plan last winter, and with an outside consultant on board, work is expected to start in October 2017. Before that process is complete, Schuh’s administration will start gathering community input for the GDP. It is unlikely that there will be 16 Small Area Plans as there were before.

“The Small Area Plans are similar to the General Development Plan but with a deeper level of detail because it’s on a smaller geographic scale,” explained assistant Planning and Zoning officer Lynn Miller, who was involved during the last GDP and comprehensive zoning process. “When we did 16 Small Area Plans, we worked on four to six at a time and we had a larger staff than we do now. It was a six- or seven-year process, so we would not be able to use that same process plus complete a GDP if we want to have this done within a 2019 timeframe. The administration is still considering a Small Area Plan aspect to the process but is waiting for the new Planning and Zoning officer to weigh in.”

A new Planning and Zoning officer, replacing the retired Larry Tom, will take office by August 1. After that transition, the Schuh administration will decide how to proceed.

Typically, the GDP is followed by comprehensive zoning, which allows Anne Arundel County to make zoning changes in accordance with recommendations in the GDP. Through this method, legislation must pass the county council, which makes its decisions after holding public hearings on the proposed changes.

But what county council will determine that fate? Councilman Derek Fink thinks a new council should make those decisions.

“The last county council, five of us were brand-spanking new when we took on comprehensive zoning and we weren’t there for the GDP,” said Fink. “That and the budget are two of the main functions that we have authority over, and we were still learning where to sit up on the dias when we had to make those important decisions. … I’d certainly be excited to be part of the process, but I’ve had my crack at comprehensive zoning. I think another council should be there for the GDP and do comp zoning.”

McEvoy said the county is considering moving comprehensive zoning from every 10 years to every four years, the timeframe used by Baltimore County, because it would become a less arduous undertaking.

“It’s kind of like snow in a blizzard,” McEvoy said. “You can wait to shovel your driveway until the storm stops and it’s harder, or you can go out every three hours in the snow and make it easier.”

Regardless of the method, Pasadena residents want to see upgrades.

“A lot can change in 10 years. [Development] is damaging to our infrastructure,” said Chesterfield resident Jessica Ewing. “In Annapolis, you can’t have seven gas stations on one road. Here, we have a gas station every time you turn around.”

Added Dillon, “You have a lot of zonings, particularly along Mountain Road, that are haphazard. You have commercial zoning, C2 next to C4 next to residential … and it impedes the ability for the property owner to make meaningful improvements.”

Whether public input comes via community meetings or a small number of Small Area Plan committees, former volunteers have advice for anyone involved in the GDP process this time.

“Do your homework,” Brumwell Hoyas advised. “Know what you want and know what your community wants. The group I was in was really a great committee.”

Schmidt echoed those sentiments. “Be willing to donate your time, be honest with yourself, and look at the positive side and negative side of everything you recommend,” he said. “You’re doing everyone an injustice unless you come with an open mind.”


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