Montgomery County's residents and planners are concerned that Howard County's comprehensive rezoning plans may hobble their efforts to control traffic problems on U.S. 29.
"The conditions on 29 now are at saturation levels," said John L. Clark, who directs planning for Montgomery's Department of Transportation. "The state does not now have the funding to make improvements to 29, so we are concerned about anything that would generate additional traffic on 29."
The comprehensive rezoning proposal for eastern Howard County would designate four major tracts as a new "mixed-use" zoning category, one of them bounded by Fulton and U.S. 29 and by Route 216 and Johns Hopkins Road. Approval by County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, of that mixed-use center could allow up to about 9,000 additional homes and produce huge increases in U.S. 29 traffic.
Several Montgomery County residents were among about 150 people who packed the Clarksville Elementary School library Thursday night to voice opposition to the zoning change for the 620-acre Fulton site.
Mr. Clark said Montgomery County's adequate facilities law has restricted development in the U.S. 29 corridor for the past decade because of overburdened roads, including both U.S. 29 and Route 108.
"Any additional development just across the border will cause addi
tional congestion on those roads in Montgomery County," Mr. Clark said.
Part of the problem comes from how U.S. 29 is defined, said Perry Berman, chief of community planning for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission's Montgomery County office.
"We have a major philosophical difference with Howard regarding the type of road 29 is."
Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of Howard's Department of Planning and Zoning, repeatedly referred to U.S. 29 as a "freeway" at Thursday night's meeting.
But planners for Montgomery would just as soon keep traffic signals to discourage more commuters from feeding into the Silver Spring area, where converting the road into a limited-access highway would hurt businesses and the character the neighborhood.
Although he has not reviewed Howard's comprehensive rezoning plans, Mr. Clark said Montgomery County planners will probably attend, and perhaps testify, at Howard County Planning Board hearings on the new zoning map -- set for 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Thursday in the George Howard county office building in Ellicott City.
Like Mr. Clark, County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he believes that the counties will work out their differences during regular regional planning meetings.
Mr. Ecker suggested that some of the traffic from the mixed-use center
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could be channeled into park-and-ride lots where commuters could catch buses into Washington.
Also, he pointed out that the intent of mixing uses is to enable people to live and work in the same place. "We need more jobs in Howard County so people don't go outside the county to work," Mr. Ecker said.
Once the Planning Board makes a recommendation on the comprehensive rezoning proposal, the County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board, will hear testimony on it in December. The final decision from council members on the new zoning map that will guide development in Howard for the next decade may not come until spring.