Rouse to seek new hearing on apartment zoning


Rouse Co. plans to ask the county Zoning Board to reconsider its refusal to accommodate up to 300 apartments on 12 acres in Columbia's Town Center, according to community leaders and county planners.

The company's Columbia development arm, Howard Research and Development, has asked several community groups to write letters in support of a rehearing for its request to change a parcel off Broken Land Parkway from employment center to apartment use.

The board denied the change March 17 but granted a package of other alterations to Columbia's 1965 master plan.

It rejected the Town Center change saying residents of the apartments or town houses might be disturbed by noise from the Merriweather Post Pavilion. The decision was criticized by community leaders who believed that more housing is key to Town Center's vitality as an urban area.

Alton Scavo, HRD's associate community development director, said Friday through a secretary that the company has not decided whether to ask for reconsideration.

But members of the county planning staff, the Columbia Association and a local civic group said HRD representatives had notified them of its intention to request the reconsideration before its deadline Wednesday.

County Council Chairman Paul Farragut, who represents Town Center and pushed for the denial, said he would not comment on a pending zoning case.

He said earlier that he feared residents who moved into the parcel would join those who favor closing the pavilion, which he considers a valuable county resource.

The Sebring Civic Association, whose representative's testimony on noise was cited in the board's decision, will send a letter in support of reconsideration, said Joan Lancos, the group's president.

"We don't have a problem with the request for reconsideration because we were never opposed to housing on that site rather than commercial use," Lancos said. Multifamily housing would be a better transition from Sebring's single-family homes to Town Center's commercial areas, she said.

The Columbia Council voted Thursday to send a letter favoring a rehearing because HRD had not had the opportunity to speak the noise issue.

The denial came as a surprise to the Columbia Forum's Downtown Work Group, which favored the concept of helping make Columbia's downtown area into a 24-hour urban area by allowing more people to live there.

Because its downtown concept had been accepted by the County Council. which sits as the Zoning Board, in its 1990 General Plan. the work group members did not see the need to take a position on HRD's rezoning petition.

But work group co-chairman Richard Lewis said the denial would probably change that.

"I think we would take a very strong position on it," he said. He said he would support building homes on the site despite potential problems with the pavilion.

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