The Howard County Zoning Board last night delayed a vote on plans for the county's first "mixed-use" development because of concerns that the project would have too much housing and not enough commercial development.
"I don't think we want to give away our business property even though it's not selling right now," said Zoning Board member Darrell E. Drown. "We have to look five, 10, 20 years down the road."
The five-member County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board, wants planners of the Cherrytree Park development -- which would sit on the southeast corner of U.S. 29 and Route 216 in Scaggsville -- to scale down their proposal for 252 housing units on the 42.5-acre site. It also wants to see a schedule for development of the residential and commercial areas of the property.
Cherrytree will resemble Columbia villages, with their mix of single-family detached homes, multifamily housing, commercial property and open space. Cherrytree is the smallest of three mixed-use developments proposed for southeast Howard.
The board's concerns strike at the heart of a larger debate about the rules governing the development of mixed-use communities.
As Cherrytree worked its way through the zoning process and as other projects have been proposed, zoning officials have become concerned that some of the county's rules governing mixed-use developments restrict developers too much and that other regulations are not detailed enough.
"Each of these mixed-use sites are different," said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the county Planning and Zoning Department. "What we're trying to do is find a middle ground."
The main concern is over regulations requiring that the residential and commercial portions of the mixed-use developments be built together in stages. The percentages of residential and commercial development built during each stage would be directly proportional to the amount that each made up in the community.
Zoning officials want to change that regulation to say that developers may build as many as 50 percent of the development's residential units before having to construct any commercial buildings. Under the proposed regulation, the Zoning Board would be able to restrict a developer to less than 50 percent.
Zoning officials say the proposed regulation would particularly help small developments where it would be difficult to build any business of substantial size without having built much of the housing.
Richard Story, director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, agreed that allowing the residential development first could be a draw for businesses. The authority has not taken a position on the rule changes.
Opponents of the proposed change fear that large mixed-use communities such as one proposed for southeastern Howard by the Rouse Co. could overburden crowded schools, worsen traffic problems and damage the county's tax base.
Within a few years, Rouse plans to build on 525 acres at Interstate 95 and Gorman Road a Columbia-style community of 1,425 homes and 3,800 residents.
In the county's 1990 General Plan, county officials determined that ideally, 75 percent of property taxes should be residential and 25 percent commercial. Currently, residential properties make up 81 percent of the county's tax base.
Opponents say that proportion has led to increased county fees for such things as trash pickup and playing fields for youth leagues.
"If we don't build business at the same rate we're building houses, we're in trouble," said Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat who represents southeastern Howard.
If the current regulations are changed, Pendergrass favors requiring 25 percent of residential construction before developers must begin commercial development.
That also is the position of the Howard County Citizens Association.
William Waff, HCCA president, said most developers would try to take advantage of the 50 percent maximum and that residents would have to fight the developers' requests and probably would lose.
"We prefer keeping the status quo or a lower number," Waff said.
Residents and county officials support another change proposed zoning officials, which would require developers to present plans for at least 40 percent of the total mixed-use site when they file their applications for such a development.
The idea is that each part of a mixed-use community should match the character of the largest piece.
The proposal is a response by zoning officials to a proposal by Willard Marlow of Montgomery County, who sought county approval to develop his 31-acre portion of a 700-acre mixed-use site in Fulton.
Zoning officials said his piece of the larger development was too small to develop by itself, and the proposal was rejected.
Pub Date: 10/31/96