Wednesday, February 21, 2024

How to make a mockery of planning

The future will never be what we want it to be unless we plan it carefully. This is the purpose of professional planning and especially the purpose of 10-year master plans which are mandatory in Maryland. Masterplans are supposed to define the long-term future of an entire county or city, connect aspirations, regulations and resources into a long-term roadmap that provides transparency, predictability and guides all future actions, including resource allocation.

Bill 03-24 withdrawn, masterplan gutted. Now what?
Baltimore SUN 2/21/24

This is a lot. Which is why Baltimore County needed two years to complete its 2030 plan. Four years late, it finally was on the docket of the County Council on Tuesday to pass through the last gate, its final adoption. Alas, through a slew of amendments from every single councilman (there are no women in Baltimore County's Council) the vital parts of the plan were shredded before it was adopted. The more then two year process was snubbed with radical changes that the public never saw, let alone could comment on, and to which the professional planners could not respond.

Yes, there were some good and meaningful amendments, but especially two of the three Republican council members used the opportunity to thumb their nose to the Democratic County Executive and his planning staff. By removing the most meaningful element of the plan, the redevelopment nodes, from their district they neutered the plan. Wade Kach did it for eliminating and modifying several controversial nodes, but councilman Crandell took the cake: He asked for removing all the nodes in his district. Of course, the council could have voted down such an egregious attempt of turning two years of professional work into a meaningless tome by rejecting clearly spiteful amendments which  were clearly not based on any planning metrics. Yet, "councilmanic courtesy" prevailed once again, and all but chair Patoka gave the nod to even this rather frivolous amendments. 

This charade took place in the context of the Olszewski administration's bill 03-24 which would have allowed residential use in business zones, provided they were located in one of the redevelopment nodes. I wrote about this bill in this space before. 

The principally good bill was marred by a flawed  introduction which clearly soured the the mood of even the most sympathetic council members. Yesterday, then, in a late attempt to save at least the masterplan, the Executive promised to withdraw the bill in favor of a new bill to be introduced later. The idea appears to be to create mixed use overlay zones that gives the council a choice for each node whether or not to apply the overlay. 

The result of all this political sausage making on a topic that should be guided by facts, statistics, data and clear objectives and principles is that now the masterplan is in ruins and the mixed use bill withdrawn. Whatever overlay bill would be meaningless without nodes. That is especially apparent for Lutherville Station, a failing mall next to a light rail station (See here and here) which had become the posterchild of the entire redevelopment concept of the masterplan and of how outmoded current county zoning really is. A mixed use development proposal has languished there for years due to the councilman's objection and a small faction of the community yelling "no apartments-no compromise". 

The systemic problems that the Exec's bill and the masterplan tried to address remain, of course. They have been compounding for decades, whether it is zoning, transit, transit oriented development or mixed use. 

The Council may feel they achieved a victory when they defeated bill 03-24 and knocked the legs off under the masterplan, but it actually acted to the detriment of the County at large.  Without a strong resolve to add mixed use and housing in those failing commercial corridors all across the County, no matter whether an individual member may object to it for parochial reasons, the County will not be able to comply with the HUD mandate for affordable housing. 

Just as the masterplan is supposed to do, one needs to see the bigger picture, which is

  • A lack of quality walkable, attractive mixed use communities that other jurisdictions have and that people want to see
  • A glut of underperforming low quality commercial corridors that drag down adjacent communities
  • A significant housing shortage.

Auto oriented ailing commercial corridors forming the
forming the "geography 
of nowhere (Liberty Road)
As a consequence, middle class, middle housing people are not only not coming to Baltimore County, they are actively moving out. This hurts the County's tax base, its workforce and its school performance in the same way as this type of out-migration has hurt the City for decades.

The council now has to show that it can actually do better than revenge zoning and spite and solve the very real problems Baltimore County clearly has.

The State, meanwhile is moving along with its own bills intended to resolve the housing crisis by forcing jurisdictions who keep stalling into allowing more housing.
Baltimore SUN 2/21/24

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

No comments:

Post a Comment