'No Growth' Hysteria in Howard

July 27, 1991

The shouting has begun over a proposal for developing Waverly Woods -- 682 acres of Howard County farmland bounded by Interstate 70, Marriottsville Road, the county landfill and Route 99. This is the largest non-Columbia development proposal ever advanced in the county.

Those who tried to yell down the developer's voluntary presentation to the community Monday night were not only rude, but unrealistic. Development already is at Waverly Woods' eastern edge. Plus, this proposal clearly has merits worth level-headed deliberation. Here's why:

* Howard County's 1990 General Plan embraces "mixed use" development -- blending housing with other land uses -- as one desirable method of managing growth.

* Even though a definition of "mixed use" is still being honed officially, Waverly Woods' developer and landowners, who need to comply with the General Plan to proceed, aren't far off the mark in spirit. Their "mixed use" proposal would blend light industry, a grocery store-anchored shopping center, town houses, homes on half- and quarter-acre lots, condos and apartments, and the county-owned, 1760s-vintage Waverly Mansion and estate -- all wrapped in an 18-hole public golf course. Completion would take 20 years, with about 2,000 people ultimately living in 937 dwellings.

* The short-sighted "yellers" at this week's three-hour, standing-room-only meeting shouted mainly that the proposal would mean too many new people and too much traffic.

But as proposed, the siting of Waverly Woods' components would be fixed legally in place now, with future changes in the "mix" difficult to achieve. A community with a distinct focal point and flavor would result, not another mindless extension of suburbia. New housing would mesh in style and lot sizes with neighboring housing. Sewer and water lines, already on the property's edge, would be extended systematically and relatively inexpensively. "Employment uses" not only would bolster the county's tax base, an important consideration, but provide services and job and business opportunities in that part of the county. The added traffic would be channeled heavily toward non-residential roads and Interstate 70. The county would get a needed public golf course.

That's not a bad list of positives. Thus, as a Sept. 3 Planning Board hearing approaches, discussion should avoid "no growth" hysteria and focus on managing growth that obviously will continue in this part of Howard County. Thoughtfully locking in plans for acreage this large is desirable. If done well, such master planning will yield tangible, readily controlled expectations for residents and neighbors, not the ugliness and perpetual turmoil that accompany piece-meal development.

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