Planning Board decision due on Rouse request Panel to announce today its vision for 522-acre site

March 13, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Planning Board today will recommend whether a 522-acre site in North Laurel should be rezoned for a Columbia-style village that residents say would exacerbate congested roads and crowded schools.

The recommendation, which is nonbinding, will be made at the board's public meeting at 9: 30 a.m. at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

The county Zoning Board will decide the rezoning issue this summer.

The Rouse Co. is seeking to build 1,410 townhouses and apartments, business and office space and a recreation area on a site that straddles Interstate 95 between Gorman Road and Route 216.

Last night, the Planning Board heard testimony on the proposal from Rouse, which owns the site, and from opponents.

Rouse wants the Planning Board to endorse the proposed rezoning from a planned employment center to mixed use, and the company's preliminary development plan.

Despite protests from opponents, the Planning Board refused to delay last night's hearing or to separate the two issues.

To get rezoning approval, Rouse must show that the current zoning is erroneous or that the surrounding neighborhood has changed.

Rouse officials argued that in the 1993 Comprehensive Zoning Plan, the Zoning Board failed to recognize the residential nature of the area when it zoned the 522-acre site -- known as the Key property -- as a planned employment center.

Rouse also said the board did not take into account the downsizing of businesses, which lowered the demand for office space.

The company contended that because additional subdivisions have been built since 1993, the area has become more residential. Rouse pointed to construction of two schools and three school additions as evidence of the change.

"By looking at the aerial maps of the area, you can see that the residential character of the neighborhoods dominates," said James Lano, an attorney representing Rouse. "The concept of building an employment center in the middle of all this is a mistake."

Opponents noted that Rouse originally rejected mixed-use zoning for the area in 1993.

"The 1993 decision on the property was not a mistake," said Peter J. Oswald, a member of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association. "It was made in the public's best interest. It was a sound decision back then and it's a sound decision today."

Residents also said that if the Rouse project is built, the area's population would grow by an estimated 3,800 people, exacerbating already worsening conditions on roads and in schools.

Route 216 and All Saints Road is one of the county's worst intersections for accidents, with 14 reported last year, and several other roads are crowded, residents said.

Even with the school construction, the school board last month strongly recommended that the Planning Board reject Rouse's rezoning request.

School officials estimated that the completed community would add 188 high school students.

Officials project county high schools will be 2,083 students over capacity by 2007 -- even without the Rouse project.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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