Panel urges denial of 2 slow-growth proposals County Council review of Gray's amendments is scheduled Nov. 3

October 24, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Planning Board yesterday unanimously -- and pointedly -- recommended denial of two amendments to the 1990 General Plan designed to slow residential development in the county.

The proposals introduced by County Councilman C. Vernon Gray would decrease the limit of 2,740 new residential units a year to 2,500 and increase the home-to-acre ratio of the Density Exchange Option program from one home per 2 acres to one home per 3 acres.

Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, altered his original plan, offered last month, which called for a cap of 2,000 new homes annually, but still failed to win the board's approval. The panel voted 3-0 against the legislation, and its members severely criticized the attempts to change the General Plan, the blueprint for the county's development until 2010.

The proposals will be reviewed by the County Council Nov. 3, Gray said.

The County Council can accept the Planning Board's recommendation, or vote to approve the amendments.

"I'm really upset with all these bills to tinker with the General Plan," said board member Joan Lancos. "I think it's a very bad precedent to continually pick at a document that was arrived at through a massive process."

Added member Theodore F. Mariani: "I think people forget how good the General Plan is. If it's not broke, don't fix it."

Gray contended that the General Plan is a guide that can be changed.

"It's not tinkering," he said. "It's recognizing reality. This is a case of them sticking their heads in the sand."

The amendment to the Density Exchange Option program -- designed to preserve farmland in the county by allowing farmers to sell their development rights -- drew the most barbs from board members, farmers and developers.

The program allows developers to buy the development rights of farmers. The developers then can build larger subdivisions while subsidizing the preservation of farmland.

The program permits developers to build one house per 2 gross acres received through the program. Gray's legislation would change that to one house every 3 gross acres.

Gray had said that he is worried that developers are abusing the intent of the exchange program, which permits developers to include wetlands and flood plains as parts of the formula for determining the number of homes.

Western county farmers, opposing the amendment that would lower the value of their development rights, said the changes would force them to sell their properties outright for development rather than using the Density Exchange Option to preserve them.

"Farming right now is not a profitable business," said Harold Clark, a Glenelg farmer. "Unless you can keep the system going like it has been working, a lot of this farmland will be developed."

But residents of Dayton, where developer Chuck Sharp is using the program to build almost 100 homes on a 240-acre site, decried the board's recommendation, arguing that the new community would cram too many houses onto former farmland.

"Things will continue as they are," said Deborah Robbins, second vice president of the Dayton Community Association. "We're going to have developers maximizing their profit with a total disregard of how it's going to affect the community, schools and roads."

In turning down Gray's lowered cap on residential units, board members rejected his argument that residential development is growing out of control. They noted that figures show that about 2,000 residential units have been built in the county each year since 1993 -- below the proposed cap.

Kathryn Mann, president of the Howard County Citizens Association, said she expected the board's recommendation.

"It's very frustrating because when the board and county officials propose changes that impact the residents, and residents say no, they say we're just upset about change," Mann said. "But when residents want to make changes, the developer community says wait a minute. This is supposed to be a two-way street."

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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