The shouting over a bid to turn 682 acres of Howard County farmland into the Waverly Woods development began this week before the county zoning board. Despite vociferous opposition, the weight of reason falls squarely in favor of this proposal to blend light industry, shopping and a golf course with a cohesive mix of apartments, town homes and single-family dwellings.
Not surprisingly, the plan has met with loud cries from no-growth advocates, who scream about overcrowded schools and overburdened thoroughfares. Looming large but unspoken is anger at a zoning change that would alter the rural character of this tract bounded by Interstate 70, Marriottsville Road, the county landfill and Route 99.
Fact is, no one should be surprised. Development of this parcel has been on tap for years. The prior general plan tagged it as an employment center. The current one earmarked it for mixed use development not much different from what's now being proposed.
Howard's days as a rural outpost free from the needs and pressures of suburbia are long past. It is an increasingly urbanized jurisdiction grappling with such difficult issues as affordable housing and economic development. Waverly Woods speaks to both. It would bring a mix of housing prices -- $135,000 to $500,000 -- that would appeal to scores of office workers and school teachers who now can't afford to buy in Howard County. The commercial part of the development would bolster the county's employment and tax base, key economic development aims.
An analysis done by the Legg Mason Realty Group Inc. suggests that even during its least cost effective year, the project would throw off $1.60 in taxes and fees for every county dollar spent. Upon completion in 2025, the projected return would be seven times the investment.
There are, though, legitimate concerns. One is the pace at which roads would be improved to accommodate growing traffic burdens. Another is whether the developer would be subject to future mixed-use development regulations regarding, say, affordable housing requirements or architectural standards. These have been adequately addressed. Waverly Woods' developers would have to comply with future regulations and will be required to provide a detailed schedule of traffic improvements linked to the progress of the development.
It's time the no-growth sentiment that helped boot former Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo out of office yielded to compromise and reason.