Deputy planning director Marsha McLaughlin told the Zoning Board Thursday night it will have to deal with two important issues -- competing property values and residential-rural conflicts -- when rezoning western Howard County.
Residential property brings a higher price than agricultural land and as a result, there is tremendous pressure to convert agricultural land to residential use, McLaughlin said.
Many people move to the western part of the county because they are enchanted with the pastoral setting, but once there, many become disenchanted with the smell of fertilizer, the use of pesticides, and slow-moving farm traffic, she said.
Resolution of those tensions and providing assurance that farmers would be able to buy, sell and manufacture products related to farming, was the driving force behind the proposal now before the zoning board, she said.
The proposal has been slowly evolving over the past 14 months and has been subjectedto numerous public hearings in recent weeks. A large turnout was expected Thursday night now that the proposal is before the Zoning Board, which will make the final decision. Instead, the crowd -- 165 -- was surprisingly small.
Community activist John W. Taylor and his slow-growth lobby, Howard Countians for Responsible Growth, had sought to swell attendance by distributing 2,000 fliers to western Howard County residents last weekend urging them to attend the hearing. Tayloropposes the proposed changes.
Zoning board chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and board member Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, chastised Taylor on Thursday for what they said was his attempt to mislead people.
On one side, his flier told about the zoning hearing. On the other, it proclaimed that the County Council, which also sits as the Zoning Board, had raised taxes when it passed the the Adequate Facilities Ordinance on Feb. 3.
The flier urged people to come to the hearing sothey could sign a petition circulated by Taylor's organization and another slow-growth group. If successful, the petition would put portions of the adequate-facilities law on the ballot in November. Voters would then decide whether to keep the law.
"This was a fraudulent misrepresentation that has needlessly upset a lot of people," Feaga said of the flier. "It was blatantly wrong, and for lack of a better term, ugly."
Gray said the flier was "downright irresponsible -- nothing but a fraudulent attempt to mislead people."
Feaga and Gray won support from former county administrator Buddy Roogow, now an aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
"There is nothing more disruptive than the misinformation of the past week," said Roogow when beginning his testimony. "I have faith this will fizzle out. I don't think people are responding any more."
An angry Taylor complained to Gray that opponents will not be allowed to speak until Tuesday night. Hesaid, therefore, he had not been allowed to respond to the charges levied by Gray, Feaga and Roogow. Gray said as the spokesman for a community group, Taylor would have five minutes Tuesday to say whatever he wanted. Individuals have three minutes.
"I stand by my fliers -- the HCFRG fliers," Taylor said in an interview. "I'm not surprised that Feaga would take a cheap shot like this but I didn't expect it from Gray." Altogether, 22 people testified before the 11 p.m. recess Thursday. All but one said they generally favored the proposal. Thirty-one people signed up to oppose the rezoning. They will begin testifying when the hearing resumes Tuesday at 8 p.m.
The rezoning proposal calls for dividing the rural, western part of the county into twodistricts -- rural residential and rural conservation.
The idea is to make agriculture a priority in the rural conservation zone by clustering housing so large tracts of land would be preserved for agricultural or recreational use. The clustering concept could be used in the rural residential zone as well, but would not be required there.
Current rural zoning allows one house per three acres but works out to an average of one house for every 4.5 acres, McLaughlin said. The new zoning calls for one house per five acres in most instances. Developers who purchase easements that keep large parcels in the rural conservation zone from being developed, would be allowed to build at an average of one home per 3.8 acres.
Rather than designate additional land for rural business use, the administration would allow property owners to petition the government for a business use on their property provided the business is compatible with surrounding land usesand the property meets certain road criteria.
The administration called 14 witnesses in support of its proposal. Included were representatives of the Rural Residential Land Use Commission, the Farm Bureau, the American Society of Land Ar
chitects, the Howard County Citizens Association, the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, the Economic Development Advisory Committee, and the Home Occupation Council.
Home Occupation Council representatives wanted existing home businesses to be protected by exempting them from the proposed regulations.
Nearly everyone who testified Thursday supported the generalconcept of the zoning proposal. They differed about specifics such as whether steep slopes, streams and wetlands should be included when determing the number of homes allowed per acre. They also differed asto the number of homes per acre that should be allowed and about whether clustering should be mandatory or optional.