'Environmental' zoning questioned Proposal could allow higher density

February 11, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

So-called "environmental" zoning may cause more environmental harm than good, community leaders told the Howard County Zoning Board last night.

"Under the guise of environmental protection, a developer of [quarter-acre] and [half-acre] land can request [environmental zoning] and in the process get increased density," said Cathy Hudson, president of the Elkridge Community Association.

Ms. Hudson spoke during the second night of testimony on changes to the county zoning map recommended by county planners under comprehensive rezoning of the eastern part of the county. The two new "residential-environmental development" zoning categories she spoke of are proposed for 4,753 acres, most of it along the Patapsco River from Woodstock to Elkridge.

In Elkridge, that amounts to 677 acres being converted, Ms. Hudson said. About a dozen of the 70 people attending the hearing stood up because they share the association's concern about the new category.

Because all speakers could not be heard last night, another public hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. March 4 in the George Howard county office building in Ellicott City.

There is currently a small amount of residential-environmental development land in Ellicott City. The county Department of Planning and Zoning has proposed splitting the zoning category into "R-ED2," allowing two homes per acre, and "R-ED3," allowing three homes per acre.

The new categories would replace land now zoned "R-20," or minimum half-acre residential lots, or "R12," which allows lots slightly larger than a quarter-acre.

R-ED2 and R-ED3 would allow developers to develop on smaller lots, clustered around environmental areas such as steep slopes and flood plains.

Town houses are permitted in R-ED2, and small apartment buildings are permitted R-ED3.

The problem, Ms. Hudson said, is that the proposed zoning would allow developers to build more homes on areas with rugged terrain that now limits homebuilding.

This is particularly true of the areas around Ilchester, Bonnie Branch and Lawyers Hill roads, she testified.

On one, 45-acre Lawyer's Hill Road property, which has 16 acres of steep slopes and flood plain, R-ED would allow 58 units instead of the 39 allowed under current zoning.

Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said she didn't understand how more units could be generated by the proposed zoning. "It's not supposed to," she said.

Ms. Pendergrass and Ms. Hudson agreed that the new zoning categories would be better if they allowed no more homes on a given parcel than R-20 would have allowed.

"If it's not doing that, we might need to write it in a manner that will make it do that," Ms. Pendergrass said.

Similar concerns were voiced by the Savage Community Association at Tuesday night's hearing about land along the Middle Patuxent River, on both sides of Interstate 95.

"We don't want hikers on the Savage Park trails north of the river to face R-ED3 apartments on the south side," said Bill Waff, the association president.

Mr. Waff urged the board to keep the land to R-ED2, which does not allow apartments, and to add more of the less intense category to adjacent properties along the Middle Patuxent River.

Comprehensive rezoning is done about every seven years to make zoning conform to the county's 20-year general plan for growth. The last general plan was approved by the County Council in 1990, and western rezoning was completed in September.

The first night of hearings on zoning regulations drew more than 400 people and, like four other hearings, was dominated by opponents of an 820-acre, mixed-use center at Fulton.

That tract and five others proposed for the new mixed-use zoning category, which combines residential, retail and commercial uses, are to be discussed at a hearing Wednesday.

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