Residents find a way to speak against rezoning

December 17, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

County residents who wanted to testify against a proposed mixed-use center in Fulton weren't deterred by the restriction against doing so during last night's Zoning Board hearing on comprehensive rezoning.

The hearing was limited to proposed changes to zoning regulations. Rezoning of specific areas, such as the 820-acre Fulton site, was not to be addressed.

But Debbie Sugar of North Laurel got around the restriction by talking of regulations that would create the mixed-use zoning category, using a "hypothetical" 800-acre mixed-use center on land that is currently zoned rural. None of the other three major mixed-use centers in southern Ellicott City, Jessup and North Laurel fits that description.

Ms. Sugar said such a center, with the maximum 55 percent of the land for residential units and the maximum proposed 20 residential units per acre, could have 8,800 such units. The maximum employment area could accommodate seven office buildings the size of the C&P Telephone Co. building on U.S. 29, many times larger than any in downtown Columbia, she said.

"The adequate public facilities ordinance that has been dangled before us . . . simply doesn't have the teeth," Ms. Sugar said, to assure enough road and school capacity to cope with such development.

"How can the financially strapped county and state be expected to provide the needed road improvements?" she asked the board.

The County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board, corrected Ms. Sugar's calculations based on a new proposal floated by the administration Monday night. Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said only 3,520 homes could be built under the proposal, which would set a maximum of eight residential units per acre for mixed-use centers larger than 75 acres.

About 150 people showed up for last night's hearing, 100 fewer than the previous night, when many residents heard for the first time that specific mixed-use centers were not to be discussed.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said that because of the large number, he would have to extend the hearing on zoning regulations to Jan. 6 and 11, dates which had been scheduled for testimony on specific changes to the zoning map.

Those wishing to speak on map changes, such as the Fulton mixed-use center or the proposed shopping center at Route 103 and U.S. 29, must still sign up on Jan. 6, Mr. Gray said.

Most opponents of the mixed-use category, including Councilman Charles C. Feaga, who has proposed eliminating it from the 1990 General Plan that governs growth in Howard, received enthusiastic applause.

But about 100 orange and green "This is Wrong" signs were held aloft during the testimony of Joe Perry, representing the Howard County Chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

The chapter strongly supports the mixed-use category and the new, three-units-per acre "residential-environmental" zoning category.

"It is our desire to create attractive, environmentally sensitive and affordable communities which will contribute to the quality of life in Howard County," Mr. Perry said. He also said the new zoning categories would be subject to "the highest degree of regulatory review this county has ever seen."

Those regulations include rules to protect the environment, provide adequate schools and roads and limit noise, Mr. Perry said.

One of the few people who showed up to address purely regulatory issues was Evelyn Tanner, chairwoman of the Board of Appeals.

She said the appeals board was opposed to the administration's proposal to give its authority to grant variances to the Department of Planning & Zoning. The appeals board, whose members are council appointees, also grants special exceptions and decides appeals of decisions made by the planning and zoning department and the planning board.

The administration proposal is intended to make the process faster and less expensive, but Ms. Tanner said county planners had not asked the appeals board for its ideas on accomplishing those goals.

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