Growth-control backers down, not out

February 01, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

County growth-control advocates say last week's Zoning Board approval of Waverly Woods II, a Columbia-style village in rural Marriottsville and Woodstock, is only the first decisive battle in a continuing war over development.

"I was surprised. I thought they were going to turn it down," said growth-control advocate John W. Taylor, president of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth.

"My supposition is that the County Council will pass a lot of these things and a new group will get elected that will attempt to undo them," said Mr. Taylor, who lost a close 1990 primary race against western county Councilman Charles C. Feaga.

Next year, Mr. Taylor said, he plans a rematch or possibly a run for county executive.

Battered but not broken, "no-growthers," as they are derisively called by many county officials and developers, are likely to be back by the hundreds when the county Zoning Board takes up the issue of mixed-use centers on Feb. 17.

"I don't think people are going to quietly walk away and accept this," Mr. Taylor said.

The Waverly Woods rezoning, which will allow up to 937 houses and apartments and 1 million square feet of commercial space such as offices and warehouses on the 682-acre site, attracted more than 400 people, most of them opponents, to the first of a series of tense public hearings.

And, though County Council members, sitting as the Zoning

Board, voted 4-1 in favor of rezoning the site, at least one lawmaker has questions about the wisdom of such large-scale projects.

Darrel Drown, a Republican from Ellicott City who represents most of the opponents' neighborhoods, said he voted for the zoning change because he felt it met the legal requirements. Later, he tried unsuccessfully to change the Waverly Woods II site plan to place single-family housing in the eastern portion of the property, near similar existing neighborhoods.

During Thursday's Zoning Board work session, Mr. Drown proposed sweeping changes in the site plan, such as cutting back the acreage devoted to businesses and keeping that section between Marriottsville Road and the county landfill on the west end of the property.

Mr. Drown also proposed taking apartments and townhouses away from the property's eastern border and moving them toward the middle of the site.

Mr. Drown's four council colleagues refused to go along after being told by their lawyer that such changes would require additional public hearings.

The echoes of the arguments used by scores of speakers at 16 Waverly Woods hearings from March to December are likely to be heard by opponents of mixed-use zoning proposed by county planners for an 820-acre site at U.S. 29 and Route 216 in Fulton.

With a glut of commercial space in Howard, opponents question the notion that the county needs to create such large mixed-use centers aimed at providing space for commercial development.

L. Jamie Smith, a local commercial real estate broker, wonders about the viability of building commercial space at the Waverly Woods site near Interstate 70.

"Aside from immediate community services, I see no need for any commercial development in that area for many years to come," said Mr. Smith, who runs the W. C. Pinkard & Co. Columbia office.

During hearings on Waverly Woods, however, developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. produced economic studies that he said showed the commercial land to be viable, at least in the long-term.

One advantage, he argued, is that its owners are under no pressure to begin commercial development because they have already paid for the land.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker's comprehensive rezoning proposal for the eastern portion of the county, which follows the outline of the county's 1990 general plan, proposes mixed-use sites in Ellicott City, Jessup and North Laurel in addition to the already controversial site in Fulton.

But unlike the Waverly Woods project, which was handled as an individual rezoning request and was fleshed out with a detailed site plan, assigning the mixed-use zoning category to other sites would merely set up a framework for the Zoning Board to use in deciding the specifics after developers submitted plans.

County Council Chairman Paul Farragut has asked for the Department of Planning and Zoning to do studies, however, so that council members can better determine whether each mixed-use proposal will benefit the county.

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