December 14, 2017
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  • Melvin Bender was one of 16 Broadneck peninsula residents who drafted the last Small Area Plan with help from county officials.
    Zach Sparks
    Melvin Bender was one of 16 Broadneck peninsula residents who drafted the last Small Area Plan with help from county officials.
  • With myriad businesses, Park Plaza serves as an epicenter of Severna Park, but some local residents want to see it become part of a village square that also contains living spaces and open areas for social activity.
    Zach Sparks
    With myriad businesses, Park Plaza serves as an epicenter of Severna Park, but some local residents want to see it become part of a village square that also contains living spaces and open areas for social activity.
  • With myriad businesses, Park Plaza serves as an epicenter of Severna Park, but some local residents want to see it become part of a village square that also contains living spaces and open areas for social activity.
    Zach Sparks
    With myriad businesses, Park Plaza serves as an epicenter of Severna Park, but some local residents want to see it become part of a village square that also contains living spaces and open areas for social activity.
  • With myriad businesses, Park Plaza serves as an epicenter of Severna Park, but some local residents want to see it become part of a village square that also contains living spaces and open areas for social activity.
    Zach Sparks
    With myriad businesses, Park Plaza serves as an epicenter of Severna Park, but some local residents want to see it become part of a village square that also contains living spaces and open areas for social activity.

Small Area Plans May Solve A Big Problem

Zach Sparks
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August 10, 2017

Public Input Is Vital To The Next General Development Plan

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 Anne Arundel County 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.

While Severna Park and Broadneck peninsula residents feel that their input was valued, it wasn’t necessarily utilized.

“I think this was taken seriously throughout,” said Pat Troy, who chaired the Severna Park Small Area Plan Committee during its three-year existence. “I think the missing piece was what happens next. There was no designated body to take this and run with it.”

Melvin Bender, who worked on the 16-member Broadneck Small Area Plan Committee, was proud of the work he contributed but unsettled by the outcome.

“We met quite frequently and worked quite hard to bring people and government together,” Bender said. “The county was very cooperative at that time, and a secretary would write out notes for us.

“I’m not proud of how it was followed through,” he added. “Most of the zoning we had here [in the plan] has been neglected.”

The 124-page Severna Park plan and 86-page Broadneck document were two 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 Executives John Gary and Janet Owens.

Most of those appointees had helpful backgrounds. With expertise in community association law, Kathleen Elmore was adept at gathering diverse perspectives.

“We wanted to keep the Severna Park area colloquial and residential,” Elmore said. “One of our main focuses was to have a village square with both businesses and people living above those businesses. There would be walking paths and bike paths to cut down on vehicular traffic. You could walk to the stores, walk to the entertainment.”

Although the Severna Park Community Center expanded and local amenities like Jonas Green Park were added, several other committee suggestions have not been realized.

Downtown Severna Park lacks a village square that combines commercial and residential properties, pedestrian walkways and open space for social activity, which is not to be confused with a rural town center, which people do not want, according to Greater Severna Park Council President Maureen Carr-York. “There should be appropriate limitations as to height,” she said. “We don’t ever want Severna Park to get that dense.”

Broadneck still has excessive traffic and is without the shuttle service requested in the Small Area Plan.

Elmore expressed that no one is to blame. “It was a plan, a goal,” she said, “and sometimes you don’t meet your goals. But we made progress.”

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.”

New Planning and Zoning officer Phil Hager, the former director of the Carroll County Department of Planning, replaced the retired Larry Tom on July 31. As Hager transitions to his new role, 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.

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, Severna Park and Broadneck peninsula homeowners want to see upgrades and they want validation that their work will be meaningful.

“Does it become law or does it become an advisory plan?” Bender wondered about the next process. “If it’s an advisory plan, it is going to be very disappointing.”

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 next GDP process.

“Become involved in the community. Listen to people. Open your eyes and your ears,” Elmore said. “Inch by inch, maybe we will make it work.”

Troy offered similar sentiments. “My advice is to listen to the individual residents and to the groups and give them opportunity for input,” she said. “The Greater Severna Park Council, the [Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce], Severna Park Community Center, the river associations, ASPIRE – listen to those who are trying to make Severna Park a better place.”


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