Rouse wants new zoning for project Shift to mixed use to be sought for 1,420 residences

Building would begin in '99

Single-family homes would occupy about 37% of the property BY Ivan Penn

August 27, 1996|By SUN STAFF

Rouse Co. officials plan to file a request by the end of next week to convert 526 acres in North Laurel to "mixed-use" zoning -- a new development category aimed at creating Columbia village-style neighborhoods in other areas of Howard County.

The Rouse project, on company-owned land off Gorman Road along both sides of Interstate 95, calls for about 1,420 housing units, or 2.7 per acre.

The project is less than half the size of a typical Columbia village in terms of the number of dwellings but would mean a big increase in housing for the North Laurel area.

About 37 percent of the land would be used for single-family houses that would cost about as much as those in Columbia's newest village, River Hill -- from about $200,000 to $400,000.

In addition, about 12 percent of the land would be developed for townhouses, apartments and condos.

As with all mixed-use communities, a large portion -- about 36 percent -- of the land would be used for open space with walking paths and tot lots. And about 15 percent would be for businesses, much like Columbia's village centers.

Construction of the North Laurel project would begin in 1999.

Because the mixed-use zoning is similar to Columbia's "new town" designation, Rouse officials -- who developed Columbia -- say they are the ones to pioneer the new zoning category in the county.

"It's not like we're asking people to experiment," said Alton Scavo, senior vice president for Rouse. "You have a developer who is tested and true in research and development of mixed-use type communities."

Howard zoning officials want to use mixed-use communities -- where residents could live, work and play in the same neighborhood -- to guide future development in the county.

ABut as Rouse officials proceed with their plans, residents in the North Laurel-Savage area want assurances that a mixed-use development will not disrupt the tranquil and historic character of their community, where many have chosen to live as an alternative to Columbia.

"It's quiet back in here," said Barbara Lovett, a resident of the Bowling Brook Farms community off Gorman Road. "It's not hustle-bustle. I think the important thing is to keep the flavor of this area, which is different from Columbia."

Rouse is the second developer to seek approval for a mixed-use community in Howard, but the other project is less than 10 percent the size of Rouse's.

The other project -- Cherrytree Park, 150 attached and detached homes, 10,000 square feet of retail space and 14,000 square feet of office space on 42.5 acres at U.S. 29 and Route 216 -- also is to open to residents in 1999. It already has the mixed-use zoning designation, but its development plans have not been approved.

No plans for the county's largest proposed mixed-use development -- a 700-acre site off U.S. 29 between Route 216 and Johns Hopkins Road in Fulton -- have been announced. That land has a mixed-use zoning designation.

A fourth mixed-use site in Jessup is being considered, where Kingdon Gould Jr., a Washington parking lot magnate, wants to develop a quarry there. If the quarry is approved, the land could not be developed for housing for at least 25 years.

Before construction could begin on the Rouse project in North Laurel, the property must be rezoned to the mixed-use category, which requires the approval of the county Zoning Board. The property now is zoned for an employment center.

Board members rejected the company's request for mixed-use zoning for the 526-acre property during the 1993 comprehensive rezoning because they already had approved several other sites, said Joseph Rutter, director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

But it has been part of the county's plan to develop the Rouse site as a mixed-use community since 1990, when the idea was written into the county's General Plan.

"It certainly is one of the best locations," Rutter said of the Rouse site. "I think it's appropriate" for the site to be developed as mixed-use because of the it's in the General Plan.

"We believe that with existing conditions in the community down there, this is a viable mixed-use market," Scavo said.

If all regulatory hurdles are cleared -- which will take about 18 months, Scavo said -- construction of the first housing units could begin in 1999. It will be six to eight years before all the units are built, he said.

Residents say they would prefer the mixed-use community to an employment center, particularly because the site sits off Gorman Road, a winding country road and one of the county's designated scenic routes. An employment center would bring heavy traffic and might require significant improvements to Gorman Road.

"There are still concerns that this project could impact traffic counts on the scenic road," said Gregory Fries, a longtime community activist who lives along Gorman Road. Rouse's project "has the potential to be embraced by the citizens.

"I think the county needs to be very cautious," he said. "It's breaking new ground in development terms. It truly will impact other mixed-use projects remaining in the county."

William Waff, president of the Savage Community Association, said, "Based on the general concept, we like what we see."

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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