Mixed-use zoning plan lambasted at hearing

November 20, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

County voters ought to be able to approve or reject the proposed comprehensive rezoning of the eastern county, a North Laurel resident told the Planning Board last night.

"Every taxpayer should have an equal vote in this matter, rich or poor," said Kathryn Lee Borg-Emery in a statement read by another resident during the second night of hearings on the comprehensive rezoning plan.

Ms. Borg-Emery was one of about 175 people who signed up to testify, many of them opposed to an 820-acre mixed-use area proposed at U.S. 29 and Route 216 in Fulton. The hearing will resume at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the George Howard County Office Building in Ellicott City.

"Why do we even need mixed use? No one I have spoken to is in favor of it," she said in the statement, predicting that "if this passes, I believe that we will have new people in office after the next election."

The comprehensive rezoning process does not allow for a referendum on the final decision by the County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board.

Opponents of the county's 1990 General Plan, upon which the rezoning is based, failed to gather enough signatures in time to attempt to put the plan on the ballot.

"The proposed revisions offer little in terms of advantages to most of the county's residents while posing a great many risks," said Peter J. Oswald of Fulton.

Those risks include increased traffic, crime and taxes and overburdened public facilities, he said.

"More importantly, the residents of Howard County simply don't want these changes," Mr. Oswald said, echoing others' testimony.

He said that in two hours on Election Day, he questioned 71 voters in Fulton and found that 66 of them, or 93 percent, were willing to sign a petition against the mixed-use area.

Sally Yates of the Cherry Tree Farm development in North Laurel complained that the area is already choked by traffic.

"Where are you going to put all the cars that mixed-use zoning is going to generate at [Route] 216, at [U.S.] 29?" she asked. "I have a feeling that we're just about topped off in eastern Howard County as far as traffic is concerned."

"Why are we doing this?" asked growth-control advocate Susan Gray of Highland.

Attacking one of the purported advantages of mixed-use areas, she said, "There's no evidence that if you put jobs and houses close together, [people] will live where they work."

Ms. Gray also played an audio tape of a person she said was a county transportation planner conceding that there was "no hard data" to back the county's belief that more than one-third of residents in a mixed-use area would work in their community and not add to the area's traffic.

"If mixed-use developments are approved for zoning, they will snowball and Southeast Howard County will change into a densely populated area just like Columbia," said Michael E. Leffler of North Laurel.

Mr. Leffler, an engineering consultant who works with developers, warned that the county would end up with heavy traffic and overcrowded schools, like Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, both of which allowed mixed-use developments in rural areas.

The rezoning plan would designate three major mixed-use areas in addition to the Fulton site, rezone three Ellicott City office/research tracts for apartment use and allow development of 682 rural acres in Marriottsville and Woodstock into a Columbia-style village.

Another proposal would designate virtually all land along the Patapsco River, from Woodstock to Elkridge, as "residential-environmental development." Such zoning would allow developers to cluster homes so as not to disturb environmentally sensitive areas.

After the Planning Board makes its recommendation on the comprehensive rezoning plan, the County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board, will hear testimony on the proposal in December.

Because of the likelihood the Zoning Board would make changes in the administration's rezoning plan, final approval by council members is not expected until next spring, after a second set of Planning Board and Zoning Board hearings.

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