Residents of Howard County may have to give up the farm Southern communities brace for building boom

July 14, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

It won't be another Columbia, but folks in southern Howard County are expecting a development boom that will upend their suburban lifestyles.

"I know it's coming," said Martin J. Isles, who for 17 years has rented a house from the State Highway Administration, which plans to run a highway through his back yard to accommodate the expected development. "And when it does, I'm going to have to move."

As Howard moves toward "build out" -- when there is no more land that can be used for development -- county planners are expecting to see high-density housing cropping up in areas such as southern Howard, where cornstalks stand and livestock graze.

These developments are known as "mixed-use" areas -- communities where residents can live, work and play without having to drive -- the concept on which Columbia was based. The mixed-use developments include combinations of condominiums, townhouses and single-family homes, along with commercial centers and parks.

In southern Howard -- which includes communities south of Route 32 to U.S. 29 and south of Johns Hopkins Road -- there are proposals and plans to develop about 1,400 acres into mixed-use communities with about 3,500 residences. In addition, single-family developments with houses costing $250,000 and up are being built.

The area is becoming increasingly popular because of its location between Baltimore and Washington, with easy access to U.S. 29 and Interstate 95.

"You are seeing more and more of a meshing of Montgomery and Howard counties," said Michael Conte, director of the Regional Economic Studies Program at Towson State University. "In southern Howard, specifically, we've seen a more significant association with D.C."

Residents fear that development, especially the high-density, mixed-use communities, will worsen traffic snarls and school crowding. One of the major intersections in the area, U.S. 29 and Route 216, is the county's "top priority" for improvement because of accidents and heavy traffic.

"It's a hell of an increase for the people who live here," said Peter J. Oswald, who fought against the mixed-use zoning before it was added to the 1990 General Plan. "You're talking about thousands of commuters, thousands of people on our highways, thousands of children in our schools."

County zoning officials say development won't bring & 2/3 overwhelming congestion. The mixed-use communities will be about the size of a "small Columbia village," they say.

And the concept, created in the 1990 General Plan, is what they want to use as the model for development in Howard.

Plans for what is expected to be the first mixed-use community -- Cherrytree Park, which would sit at U.S. 29 and Route 216 -- are working their way through the zoning process.

If approved, the 42.5-acre Cherrytree Park would include up to 33 single-family detached homes, 114 townhouses, 120 multifamily units, about 10,000 square feet of retail space and 14,000 square feet of office space. It would have its own parkland.

The higher housing density allows builders to attract the increasing numbers of homebuyers from the Washington suburbs.

"Buyers are selling their houses in Montgomery County and moving to Howard County," said George Paliatsos, branch manager at the Burtonsville office of Weichert Realtors.

Paliatsos said about 25 percent of his sales are to people moving from Montgomery to Howard.

"You can get a better value, crossing over into Howard County," he said. "And, in general, it's a more rural setting and the schools are the best in the state."

About 10 percent of the county's 1,896 residential building permits last year were in southern Howard.

The highest-density development in the area will be the Fulton mixed-use site, a 700-acre tract off U.S. 29, from Johns Hopkins Road south to Route 216. The Iager family, which owns Maple Lawn Farms, is primary owner of the land. Four other parcels also make up that site, which is expected to have about 2,000 housing units.

But all the high-density development has residents worried.

"We're not against development," said Greg Brown, who lives near one of the proposed mixed-use sites. "But when areas are radically rezoned, that could be a problem. We're concerned about quality of life, safety and health."

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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