Board rejects bid to rezone N. Laurel Rouse owns most of 1,085-acre parcel

September 22, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

In final deliberations on comprehensive rezoning of the eastern county, the Zoning Board yesterday voted unanimously to deny Rouse Co. the largest mixed-use area proposed by Howard County planners.

County planners had sought the mixed-use zoning designation for a 1,085-acre parcel straddling Interstate 95 in North Laurel. Most of the land is owned by Rouse.

The designation would allow a strictly controlled combination of houses, apartments, shops and businesses.

Although this was the largest of the six proposed sites, the zoning proposal drew relatively little opposition during public hearings this spring, as compared with the reaction against a mixed-use zoning proposal for an 820-acre site a mile to the east in Fulton.

"I can't comprehend it," said Alton J. Scavo, Rouse Co. vice president and associate director of community development. "I'm particularly confused because they all seemed to indicate that . . . they thought this was an appropriate place."

The decision by County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, will not be final until the comprehensive rezoning package is signed. The signing was set yesterday for Oct. 18.

Before the vote, board members said they favored mixed use on the site but wanted to defer development there, perhaps until the next comprehensive rezoning.

That process occurs about every seven years.

The North Laurel site is bounded by Stephens, Gorman and Whiskey Bottom roads on the east side of I-95, and by Route 216, Leishear and Gorman Roads on the west side of the interstate.

About 240 acres of the site's eastern end is owned by Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers, and smaller portions are owned by the State Highway Administration and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

In lieu of mixed-use zoning, which, like Columbia's new town zoning, requires Zoning Board approval of any development plans, the board decided to retain planned employment center zoning on most of the land. The remainder, now zoned for half- and quarter-acre homesites, would be rezoned for residential-environmental development. That category allows clustering of two homes per acre away from sensitive areas such steep slopes and flood plains.

Joseph W. Rutter, planning and zoning director, warned board members before the vote that while Rouse has a record of waiting for years for the right time to develop its property, the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers' land may be ripe for development.

The decision will keep the property zoned for a planned employment center, for light industrial and two-homes-per acre residential uses. Because the area's dairy farms are dwindling, Mr. Rutter said, Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers is likely to move.

Board member Shane Pendergrass, who represents North Laurel the council, acknowledged that the decision was unexpected, in light of the board's unanimous vote for the Fulton mixed-use site.

She explained the decisions to deny the designation in N. Laurel and approve it in Fulton as different means to the same end -- of slowing development.

"It's peculiar, because by doing the opposite thing, we get similar results," she said.

In Fulton, it was believed that the mixed-use zoning designation would be an incentive for Fulton's several landowners to join in developing one large mixed-use area, board members believed, and such a project would take longer to develop.

However, on the North Laurel site, the board believed that Rouse, being the dominant landholder, would be more likely to delay development until the board eventually granted the mixed-use zoning, said Ms. Pendergrass.

Mr. Scavo disagreed, saying that it would be easier to put off developing the land if Rouse had a better idea of what it could do with it in the future.

"There is nothing that gives us comfort from the standpoint of holding this property for another seven years, until the time of the next comprehensive zoning," Mr. Scavo said. He added that it was too early to tell what would be done with the property in the interim.

Mr. Scavo said Rouse could not count on a future zoning board granting the mixed-use zoning.

Rouse is best known in the county for its development of Columbia under the new town zoning, after which the mixed-use zoning category was modeled.

Mr. Scavo said it was possible to proceed slowly with developing Columbia "because we had the assurance that the plan could be fulfilled."

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