Higher mixed-used density supported

July 08, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Backing away from earlier statements favoring low housing density in a new mixed-use zoning category, county Zoning Board members voted narrowly to allow large sites to be developed more densely than Columbia.

If the vote at last night's work session becomes official -- part of a package of zoning regulations signed by a majority of the members -- a mixed-use center of more than 75 acres could have an average of three housing units per acre.

The developed sections of Columbia average nearly 2.4 dwelling units per acre.

Under another rule voted on, 30 percent of the residential units could be apartments. The category calls for a mix of houses, apartments, businesses, stores and open space.

The votes surprised growth-control advocates, who were encouraged by the June 30 work session, during which the board appeared content with a two-homes-per-acre limit.

The 3-2 vote by the Zoning Board -- which is made up of the five County Council members -- distressed dissenters Darrel Drown, a Republican who represents Ellicott City, and Democrat Shane Pendergrass, who represents the county's southeastern edge.

During the meeting, Mr. Drown used another county's growth-control failures to illustrate the possible future of higher-density mixed use.

"I really worry that 20 years out, we're not going to have any public transportation and we're going to have three [residential] units per acre . . . and we're going to look around and say, 'Golly, this is Montgomery County all over again.' "

In discussions last week, Mr. Drown and Ms. Pendergrass got at least rhetorical support from Zoning Board Chairman C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat representing east Columbia, and Democrat Paul Farragut of west Columbia.

But Mr. Farragut said that since last week he had checked the 1990 General Plan, the county's 20-year blueprint for growth, and was reminded that mixed-use centers were intended to have three to five homes per acre.

In addition, Mr. Farragut said, he "started to realize" that some of the six proposed mixed-use sites will not be completely developed and thus will have densities averaging less than three homes per acre.

He identified two sites that are unlikely to be fully developed, a 569-acre tract in Jessup where a quarry is planned and a 184-acre tract in southern Ellicott City that may have a section of the six-lane Route 100 extension running through it.

Also proposed for mixed-use zoning are a 42-acre tract in Ellicott City, two sites in Laurel totaling 1,085 acres and an 820-acre Fulton site.

For smaller sites -- those of 75 acres or less -- the board voted to adopt a second mixed-use category that would allow six residential units per acre, with no limit on the percentage of apartments.

Council members will meet to continue mixed-use deliberations at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the George Howard county office building.

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