Board backs bid for Rouse rezoning But vote postponed on development plan for the 522-acre site

March 14, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Planning Board recommended yesterday rezoning a 522-acre site in North Laurel for a Columbia-style village proposed by the Rouse Co., but delayed a vote on the developer's preliminary development plan until later this month.

The board quickly accepted the rezoning request at its morning meeting without dissent -- agreeing with Rouse officials and county planners that there was a mistake in the area's original zoning.

The vote -- a nonbinding recommendation that must be approved by the county Zoning Board -- came less than 12 hours after testimony on the issue at a Wednesday night session.

The project is the largest new development under consideration for Howard County.

The Planning Board recommendation represents the project's passage of the first of a series of regulatory hurdles.

But the board labored for 90 minutes on Rouse's preliminary plans for the site before deciding it needed to have more information from the developer on the pace and impact of the project presented at the board's next night meeting March 26.

fTC "We would like to see the first presentation of the PDP [preliminary development plan] to be a knockout punch," said Theodore F. Mariani, chairman of the Planning Board. "We sort of expected more from the Rouse Co., and we haven't seen it."

Rouse Co. officials expressed surprise at the board's request for more data.

"We thought that the petition was complete," said Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president for Rouse.

Scavo said some of the questions posed by the board go beyond preliminary planning to the next, more specific, stage of planning. The next phase is known as the comprehensive sketch plan.

Rouse wants to build 1,410 single-family houses, townhouses and apartments and provide 889,669 square feet of business and office space, while retaining 182.8 acres of open space. The site -- known as the Key property -- straddles Interstate 95 just south of Gorman Road and north of Route 216.

The board specifically requested information on how much the completed community would contribute in county taxes and the schedule for improvements to the local road network as development evolves.

Rouse officials were worried that the delay would become the type of technicality that could come back to haunt them in an appeal from civic groups closely reviewing the approval process.

"The worse thing we would want is that three years from now -- if we had the rezoning and plan all ready to go -- a court telling us that there was a flaw in the process, and we have to start over again," James Lano, an attorney representing Rouse, told the board.

Mariani shot back: "I agree that you have a lot at risk, but the citizens of this county have a lot at risk, too. We want this done right."

The board decided against allowing additional public testimony when Rouse makes its new submissions.

Mariani sought to give residents a chance to voice their opinions, but the board's other members argued that they had closed public testimony after Wednesday night's meeting.

William B. Waff, president of the Savage Community Association, disagreed with that decision.

"If it's asking two or three simple questions, that's one thing," he said of Rouse's new submissions. "To ask them to bring all of this new information, we should be able to respond to it."

The board had little trouble with the rezoning question.

All four members present -- the fifth is on business trip -- concluded that the Zoning Board failed to recognize the residential nature of the area when it zoned the site as a planned employment center during the 1993 Comprehensive Zoning Plan.

The board also concurred with a report from the county #i Department of Planning and Zoning that a mixed-use community would have less impact on roads than residential or business use.

But concerned residents asserted that the Zoning Board, comprising the members of the County Council, preserved the planned employment center zoning in 1993 because of the lack of a strong road network to handle residential traffic.

"They knew that the infrastructure was not in place," said Gregory K. Fries, chairman of the Southern Howard Land Use Committee. "The Zoning Board knew exactly what it was doing."

Planning Board member Joan Lancos expressed some reservations about the number of students that the community would add to the school system.

But Mariani criticized the county school board for recommending last month that the Rouse rezoning request should wait until county funds for a new high school in Fulton are secured.

"I think that the school board has taken the attitude that the world has to wait for the school board," the chairman said. "They have a responsibility to be responsive."

Michael Grasso, who lives in Hammond Hills, said he is disappointed that the board was able to make a recommendation so quickly after it heard presentations from both sides.

"It was too fast," Grasso said. "The decision that's coming will unify everyone [against the project]. It will be a rallying point."

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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