Slower growth urged at hearing 'Mixed use' plan stirs fear of density

February 18, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Several residents implored the Howard County Zoning Board again last night to reject several proposed mixed-use sites, urging the panel not to dismiss their views summarily as those of "no-growthers."

"My fear is that you are labeling the average citizen as a no-growther," said Max Peterson of Cherry Tree Farms.

"I wouldn't call you a no-growther any more than I would call me a no-growther," County Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, assured Mr. Peterson.

Ms. Pendergrass criticized County Executive Charles I. Ecker for using that term to describe growth-control advocates during a speech to the Chamber of Commerce.

"It's not that we're saying no growth, it's just that we're saying growth should be managed," said Tom Flynn, representing the North Laurel Civic Association.

Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, designated last night's comprehensive rezoning hearing expressly for proposed mixed-use sites. These have been opposed at previous Planning Board hearings and hearings on new zoning regulations by nearly all speakers except representatives of businesses and developers.

As at past hearings, last night's testimony was dominated by opponents of an 820-acre, mixed-use center in Fulton.

Five other tracts -- two in North Laurel, one in Jessup and two in Ellicott City -- have been proposed by county planners using the 1990 General Plan, a 20-year blueprint for growth.

Unlike the Planning Board hear

ing on mixed-use sites in November, which attracted more than 400 people, only about 80 people attended last night.

Sentiment at both hearings ran against mixed use, citing the effect growth would have on traffic and public services.

"We have experienced deterioration of public services because of rapid growth in this part of the county over the last several years," Mr. Flynn said. "We feel that our community cannot bear the burden of more high-density housing being built until we are confident that the county can provide facilities, such as schools, roads and parks."

And the county's adequate public facilities ordinance, which requires developers to pay toward improving roads and delays development in crowded elementary school districts, is a small comfort, said William Waff, president of the Savage Community Association.

"What is frightening is the maximum yield of 29,865 dwelling units -- or 13.5 times that under current zoning. Imagine the impact on schools and roads, no matter how much the adequate facilities regulations delay construction," he said.

Mr. Waff said his association favors converting only nonresidential land to mixed use and limiting homes to eight units per acre within the mixed-use zones. The result would yield a possible 7,557 residential units, which is still more than the 2,215 units under current zoning, "but much more reasonable," he said.

Using criteria for mixed use set forth in the general plan, Mr. Waff also questioned the North Laurel mixed-use site, which "does not meet the requirement of being part of an existing employment concentration."

His association also urged that mixed use in North Laurel and Fulton be delayed until the next comprehensive rezoning cycle, which is usually about seven years.

Mr. Petersen even suggested that a tax increase would be preferable to the kind of growth mixed-use centers would allow.

He questioned the argument that the county needs to increase its tax base by attracting businesses with the mixed-use sites.

"I would submit that there is an adequate tax base in the county . . . that can in fact pay for essential services," he said.

Testimony on mixed use will resume at 9 a.m. March 18 in the George Howard county office building in Ellicott City.

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