February 02, 1993

Howard County's zoning board has dealt a stinging defeat to no-growth forces in the county by approving plans for Waverly Woods II, a 682-acre commercial, residential and golfing village straddling Marriottsville and Woodstock.

The fact that the board softened the blow -- by slashing 41 percent of the office space that can be built on the property -- should not obscure the fact that the county as a whole can claim a significant victory here . . . at least for now.

By holding their punches and offering a compromise to opponents of this project, the zoning board went about as far as compassion and common sense would allow. The Waverly Woods project, which is expected to take close to 20 years to complete, is a model of cluster development and appropriate land use that will strengthen the financial viability of the county.

Some of the loudest arguments made against the project centered on the amount of commercial space -- 1.7 million square feet -- proposed by the developer. Board members rightfully concluded that this number was too high and decided to scale it back.

The decision, however, wasn't simply done to appease the opposition; it flows logically from studies showing the county's need for office space will grow only slightly over the next decade.

It was a deft performance by the board, but one that is already inviting calls for a rematch.

Opponents are talking about the possibility of appealing the board's decision in court.

That would be unfortunate, because it appears unlikely that a court ruling would favor the no-growth combatants. It would only harden positions on both sides.

We hope that the board's decision is accepted as conciliatory. If so, a mid-course approach may prove the best strategy for the board to take in future land-use fights of this sort.

The bloodiest battles are already raging over the comprehensive rezoning of the eastern portion of the county. Some compromise over the make-up of several proposed mixed-use developments appears to be in the offing.

It's worth the effort.

Zoning board members should not be put in a position where they feel that only a knockout punch will silence the noisy no-growth advocates.

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