Fulton, N. Laurel residents prepare for confrontation on mixed-use zoning Critics fear high-density development

December 13, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

If all goes according to plan, more than 100 Fulton and North Laurel residents will descend on the county office building Tuesday night to tell county officials what they think of mixed-use zoning.

"We're not against development, but we are against the type of 'upzoning' that would overcrowd this county," said Greg Brown, president of the Cherry Tree Farm homeowners' association.

"The only hope we have of defeating mixed-use zoning is if we pack the county office building on the 15th and 16th."

That's when County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, will begin to hear testimony on the county's proposed zoning regulations.

The most controversial proposal is the creation of a mixed-use district, which would allow a combination of residential, commercial and open space uses.

The comprehensive zoning proposal for the eastern county includes four major tracts of land in the new zoning category.

Fulton area residents are particularly critical of the county's proposal to rezone 820 acres of farmland bounded by Fulton and U.S. Route 29 and by state Route 216 and Johns Hopkins Road.

If approved by the County Council, the new zoning regulations could allow up to 9,000 more houses and create unmanageable traffic on Route 29, residents say.

County planners contend that the purpose of creating a mixed-use district is to make effective use of the few remaining large tracts of undeveloped land in the eastern portion of the county.

About 150 Fulton and North Laurel residents gathered at Rolling Hills Baptist Church last week in Fulton to plan their strategy for testifying before the zoning board.

The group created several committees that over the last week have been studying development issues such as transportation, education, crime and the environment. They plan to present data showing that high-density development will hurt these quality-of-life indicators.

Mike Grasso, of the Hammond Hills development, chairs the solid waste committee. He's been studying how the county will handle the garbage generated by 9,000 new residences.

"Would we be able to take all that garbage in? I assume the answer is no," Mr. Grasso said. "And how costly are the alternatives going to be?"

Mr. Grasso said he became involved in the fight because the proposal would change the entire character of the semi-rural area.

"This is not a zoning change; it's a breach of trust," Mr. Grasso said. "When we moved to this area we thought there would be town houses built here and there, but we expected the character the area to stay the same."

Many homeowners in the Fulton and North Laurel areas echo Mr. Grasso's sentiments.

"People purchased property based on the zoning of record at that time,"Mr. Brown said. "After the 1990 General Plan was passed, areas where people relied on 3-acre zoning are being changed completely."

Residents also criticized the county's timing in releasing the zoning regulations for the comprehensive rezoning of the east.

The county released the plans on Oct. 5.

Residents say they've had little time to familiarize themselves with the proposals, which could bring enormous changes to their area.

"The regulations allow Columbia-type development with very little planning," Mr. Brown said.

Although residents complain that they didn't have enough time to study the issues of comprehensive rezoning, it appears that they have a sufficient resources to draw on in preparing their testimony.

Susan Gray, an attorney and growth-control advocate, said that a network of high-density zoning opponents from Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties has assembled a library with research information and data on development issues.

At last week's meeting, she urged residents to use this library to pre

pare their testimony and to work with other veterans of the county's zoning wars.

Ms. Gray said that residents who have opposed such plans as Waverly Woods and Route 100 can offer valuable advice to homeowners opposing mixed-use zoning.

"There's a whole group of folks who have been through zoning fights and highway fights and you become a whole lot wiser," Ms. Gray said.

Should they fail in their efforts, residents say, legal action is their next step.

The Howard County Preservation Association is prepared to challenge the county's zoning plans in court, if necessary.

Formed about a year ago, the group aims to "educate and advocate on land use and transportation issues and potentially litigate," said Ms. Gray, the association president.

"If the county can't follow the laws or doesn't do the reasonable thing, this is an organization that will take the county and if necessary the state, head on," Ms. Gray said.

Additional zoning board hearings on proposed changes to the zoning map are scheduled for Jan. 6 and 11.

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