Changes in mixed-use zoning law approved New restrictions aim to balance homebuilding with creation of jobs

November 05, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council approved changes in the zoning law last night in hopes of keeping mixed-use districts -- some of the county's last big undeveloped parcels -- from attracting new families without bringing new jobs.

Three decades of booming residential growth in the county has strained area schools, roads and parks without bringing enough high-tax business properties to pay for them.

For that reason, county officials want to keep developers from turning mixed-use districts -- created to foster a mix of housing, open space and employment in the style of Columbia -- into giant housing developments.

If that happened, Howard might lose important opportunities to add business properties to its tax base.

The county has five mixed-use districts, ranging in size from 42 acres to 700 acres. The Rouse Co. also has proposed rezoning 525 acres near Interstate 95 and Route 216 in North Laurel to make it a mixed-use district.

The bill approved last night was an initiative by the county Department of Planning and Zoning. It makes two major changes in mixed-use zoning:

Developers are barred from being the first to build in a mixed-use district unless they control 40 percent of that district and have a tentative plan for all of it.

Officials hope this will keep small landowners from building a piece of a mixed-use district that makes a larger, comprehensive plan for the area harder to complete.

Developers are barred from building more than 50 percent of the housing within a mixed-use development before beginning serious work -- including costly bonds and planning but no actual construction -- on the business areas required by zoning law.

The zoning board already had the power to place such restrictions on any particular development. But the change means that even the most sympathetic zoning board may not allow unlimited housing before requiring the construction of business areas.

At the meeting, Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, proposed an additional restriction on mixed-use zones: Developers would not be allowed to build any more than 70 percent of housing before business areas were built.

He said the change would prevent developers from making empty commitments to building business areas while racing to build lucrative homes.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga of West Friendship joined with Council Chairman Darrel E. Drown, also a Republican, to defeat Gray's proposal.

"We can be too restrictive," Feaga said.

After Gray's proposed amendment died, the changes in mixed-use zoning passed unanimously, 4-0.

Councilman Dennis R. Schrader, a North Laurel Republican, was absent. He was in California for active duty with the Navy reserve.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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