By David Plymyer.
Anyone unfamiliar with the extensive history of corruption in Baltimore County should read Eyes of Justice, the recently published book by James Cabezas, a long-time investigator for the Maryland State Prosecutor. Baltimore County’s quadrennial “Comprehensive Zoning Map Process” (CZMP) is a throwback to that checkered past, when government actions like zoning changes were bought and sold. The CZMP must be replaced with a process more in harmony with state law and less vulnerable to corruption.
The most recent CZMP began in August and concludes next year. During the CZMP the county solicits requests for zoning changes from property owners and contract purchasers seeking to develop their properties. Each requested zoning change is voted upon separately by the county council, something that is unique to Baltimore County – and fraught with opportunity for abuse.
Baltimore County has the cart (zoning) before the horse (planning)
Maryland law requires a county to adopt a “master plan” updated at least once every ten years. The CZMP defies the mandate under state law that land use decisions made by a county council are to be based on a county’s master plan, not on the wants and desires of individual property owners and prospective developers as too often is the case in Baltimore County.
By law, the master plan must address issues such as the regulation of land use and development and needed improvements to public facilities. It must contain goals and objectives that “serve as a guide for the development and economic and social well-being” of the county. A master plan is implemented through zoning maps and laws and by subdivision and other regulations consistent with the plan.
Other counties use their master plans to establish long-term strategies for managing growth. Not Baltimore County, where master planning historically has been anemic.
The county’s master plan update is also due next year. The fact that the county is evaluating proposed zoning changes right before its master plan is updated tells you just how little regard the county has for master planning. Time and effort that planning staff should be spending on the master plan is being spent on the CZMP. Master planning in Baltimore County is, almost literally, an afterthought.