Monday, June 1, 2015

Striving for Development Excellence in Baltimore County

Once again dozens and dozens of Baltimore County residents had to pack a hearing to testify for the obvious: That open space is needed, especially where large new developments occur, as in the case of Towson.

The current Baltimore County regulations require each  developer to provide a certain amount of open space for each dwelling unit. Should a developer not be able to find that space on his own site, developers can opt for the "waiver fee" option in which they currently pay based on the zoning in which the development takes place.

The rub: The fees are not consistently collected, there is no transparency about what is collected from whom or what the money is used for. The most contentious item is that large developers who do Planned Unit Developments (PUD) do not pay at all if the PUD area was originally zoned commercial or industrial but now includes residential units. Developers in the town-center district of Towson (CT) are also exempted and so are student housing, elderly housing and others in a convoluted set of rules that is neither fair, nor transparent, nor logical.

In 2013 the County administration was asked by the council to analyze the rules, the fees and propose a better structure. Finally, in March the report came out, and to everybody's dismay suggested to keep all the fees just as they are.
This, unfortunately appears to be the result of pressure from the larger developers who apparently think they would be better off to not provide quality open space in Towson and still be able to achieve a quality community. If they think they can copy from Bethesda, MD, they better think twice. Montgomery County has quite good open space provisions and intentions to do even better in the future.

As president of NeighborSpace I testified today on the organization's main points:
A.      Replace an overly complex, zoning-based fee schedule with a simpler schedule related to the relative need for open space and the cost of providing it (See Figure 1);
B.      Ensure that all types of residential development projects bear a responsibility for providing open space or paying a fee in lieu thereof;
C.      Establish a process for assessing, collecting and expending open space waiver fees that is transparent and predictable;
D.      Incentivize the payment of waiver fees over providing open space on site so as to encourage a network of open spaces with public benefits versus isolated and fragmented private green spaces; and
Ensure a complete overhaul of the Local Open Space Manual.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Link to special NeighborSpace webpage with materials on Open Space Waiver Fee issue.
Greater Towson Council Slide Show on the open space issues in Towson

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