By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun
7:37 PM PST, December 8, 2011
Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold is considering a move to overrule the recommendations of his own planning department, as he weighs a veto on a hard-fought bill that would allow a Pasadena apartment complex to move forward.
The county's Office of Planning and Zoning recently recommended that the County Council approve intensified zoning for a property along Long Hill Road in Pasadena, where Annapolis-based development company Koch Homes plans to build 390 apartments.
Pasadena residents who live near the proposed development bemoaned the potential addition of apartments in the area — and additional traffic on the already clogged roads — at several public hearings.
Leopold responded by pushing an amendment to decrease the zoning to a level that would have derailed the project. But the council went ahead with the planning department's recommendation.
Leopold said this week that he is considering vetoing an entire comprehensive rezoning bill for the Severna Park and Pasadena areas, which rezoned about 70 properties. He also said he is drafting legislation that would require the planning department to consider traffic issues when making zoning recommendations, in order to avoid a similar scenario in the future.
"My policy in comprehensive rezoning has been to let the professional planners make their recommendations independent of any influence from my office," said Leopold, a Republican. In this case, however, Leopold says the County Council has not heeded broad guidelines that seek to reduce traffic congestion.
Tracie Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the Office of Planning and Zoning, said in an email that a 2005 rezoning added commercial and more intensive residential zoning to that area.
The County Council approved the comprehensive rezoning bill, which included the Long Hill Road development, in a 6-1 vote at Monday night's meeting. Councilman John J. Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, urged Leopold to veto the bill.
"There's already an overabundance of traffic at that intersection," said Grasso. "It's just going to make it unbelievable."
Grasso said Leopold should veto the bill on principle — even if he doesn't have the three votes to sustain the move — in order to make each member of the council publicly voice his opinion on Long Hill Road.
"Some of the councilmen don't have the endurance to go through all of this again," said Grasso. "If that's what we gotta do to make it right, that's what we gotta do to make it right. Anybody that gets in my damn way, look out."
Because of a technical issue, Leopold cannot line-item veto the Long Hill Road project as he has done a handful of times on other rezoned parcels. If Leopold vetoes the bill, it would be the first time the county executive has vetoed an entire zoning bill. Leopold has only vetoed one other bill.
Leopold said he will veto the zoning measure if he has enough support. The seven-member body needs five votes to overturn a veto.
"The primary purpose of comprehensive rezoning should not be to enrich certain special interests," said Leopold. "It should be for the orderly planning and growth of the county."
Leopold refused to elaborate, and acknowledged that he has received political contributions from developers.
"They thought it was going to be business as usual, which was a mistake," he said.
Council Chairman Derek Fink, a Republican from Pasadena, recused himself from the vote on the amendment that would have overturned the recommendation from planning and zoning, but voted for the entire bill.
The county Ethics Commission said in an opinion that it would be inappropriate for Fink to vote on the amendment because of his relationship with Gary Koch, president of Koch Homes. Koch is Fink's landlord for a Greene Turtle bar that Fink co-owns in Pasadena.
Koch did not return a message seeking comment on his development plans.
Fink said he is "not going to speculate" on what he would do if Leopold vetoed the bill.
"Nobody wants to have apartments built in their backyard," said Fink. "I do understand their concerns. I think they're valid."
Councilman Richard B. "Dick" Ladd, a Republican who represents the Severna Park area, said he also is undecided.
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