Group wants meetings postponed Residents charge bias in county report on Rouse project

'Insulting to the board'

Planning panel will deal with issue fairly, developer says

March 11, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Civic Association is asking the county Planning Board to postpone public meetings on a major North Laurel development scheduled this week.

The civic group charges that traffic studies submitted by the Rouse Co. -- the developer of the Columbia-style village off Gorman Road -- are incomplete, and that a favorable report released by the county Department of Planning and Zoning is biased.

But the department and the Rouse Co. say everything is in place and ready for Planning Board review during the first of at least two public meetings scheduled at 7 p.m. tomorrow.

A second meeting is scheduled Thursday morning.

Paul T. Johnson, a county attorney, said the board likely would not make a decision on any postponement until the meeting tomorrow night.

The call for a delay came yesterday as the county Zoning Board voted -- once again, this time in public -- on holding a single hearing on both Rouse's request to rezone the 522.4-acre site from planned employment center to mixed use and its preliminary development plan for the site.

The Zoning Board, which comprises the five members of the County Council, had voted on the matter Jan. 8. But that vote was taken behind closed doors, sparking a protest by the Howard County Citizens Association and a letter from the state attorney general's office.

Though some members of the board said they thought the vote had been taken in public, no records could be produced to prove that.

So when yesterday morning's County Council meeting ended, the group reconvened as the Zoning Board to cast its votes again. The result was identical -- 4 to 1 in favor of the single hearing.

One dissenting vote

Councilman Dennis R. Schrader, who represents North Laurel, was the lone dissenting vote.

The Rouse project entails building 1,410 single-family and multifamily homes, business and office space, and a recreation area on the site that straddles Interstate 95 just south of Gorman Road and north of Route 216.

The vote on the single hearing was overshadowed by the call for a delay in any hearings by the citizens association, which charged that Rouse officials submitted a traffic study to the Department of Planning and Zoning that does not provide "an analysis and phasing plan," as required by the county code.

The statute requires "a generalized traffic analysis for the Mixed Use Development in relation to major road improvements proposed in the General Plan and a plan for the phasing of the Mixed Use Development in relation to the road improvement."

The association contends that Rouse officials did not offer traffic counts during certain phases of the development and based its traffic calculations on a 3 percent growth rate for a 10-year period -- instead of a 6 percent growth rate for anything beyond three years, as stipulated by county traffic study guidelines.

Association officials also noted that Ronald Burns of the State Highway Administration called the analysis "extremely vague and unreviewable.

"Further submittals should be more definitive," Burns said.

Kathryn Mann, president of the citizens association, said, "I think it's insulting to the board to ask them to make a decision based on this information.

"The obligation of Planning and Zoning is to ensure that the petitioner has submitted adequate statistics to substantiate their claims. Based on what we've seen, they have not done their job," she said.

Analysis called 'broad'

Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, acknowledged that the traffic analysis submitted by Rouse is "broad," but also said the plan is in its conceptual stage and a more detailed version would be available later in the planning process.

"It does provide a reasonable study," McLaughlin said. "We feel comfortable that as plans and phasing evolve, the traffic studies will be more detailed."

Citizens association officials also say that a planning and zoning technical staff report on the Rouse project that was released Friday is flawed and should be redone, another reason for delaying the hearing, or at least splitting it into two separate hearings -- one on the zoning question and a later one on Rouse's plans.

Gregory K. Fries, the civic association's vice president, said the staff report is so favorable to Rouse that it is tainted and should not be admitted into the board's records.

"It's not going to represent the county's best interest," he said. "I think that's reckless."

But Alton Scavo, senior vice president for Rouse, said it is not surprising that the county issued such a favorable report because county officials have often expressed support for mixed-use development of the type proposed by Rouse, ranging all the way back to the county's 1990 General Plan.

"I would've been more surprised if the department had come out against mixed use after all they've written," Scavo said. "And I think the board will give us a fair hearing."

Seeking meetings at night

In a related matter, the Southern Howard Land Use Committee, the Savage Community Association and the Hunters Creek Homeowners Association have asked the county Planning Board to hold any subsequent public meetings on the Rouse project during the evening.

The civic groups are concerned that many residents who have opinions about the project won't be able to attend daytime hearings.

"Our concerns are about access for the public during the business day," said Fries, who is chairman of the Southern Howard Land Use Committee.

Scavo said he has no objections to scheduling meetings at night.

"If it's in the evening, we'll be there," the Rouse Co. official said. "If it's in the morning, we'll be there."

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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