Rouse calls '93 zoning incorrect It seeks change to clear way for Columbia-style village

November 06, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A Rouse Co. official told the Howard County Zoning Board last night that a 517-acre site in North Laurel was zoned incorrectly in 1993 and should be given a new designation to allow his company to build a Columbia-style village there.

After two weeks of testimony about open-space requirements, road construction and housing plans, Rouse Vice President Alton J. Scavo, in testimony last night, finally said what opponents figured he would say about the site, south of Gorman Road and north of Route 216.

Under Maryland law, a zoning board may rezone a site only if the surrounding area has changed significantly or if a mistake was made when it was zoned. Rouse would like to change the site's zoning from employment, which allows retail office buildings and commercial centers, to mixed-use (residential and commercial).

"It's a residential neighborhood today," Scavo said. "If you want it to continue to be a residential neighborhood in the future, [mixed-use] does just that."

After Scavo's testimony, opponents of the zoning change, led by the Southern Howard Land Use Committee, began the first day of what could be a lengthy cross-examination.

Opponents say the mixed-use development would hurt the county's tax base and strain schools and infrastructure, especially roads.

Attorney Thomas E. Dernoga, who represents the land-use committee, asked Scavo why Rouse wants to change the zoning designation when it apparently seems willing to build under the current zoning.

Scavo answered that Rouse feels more comfortable with mixed-use developments, that it has a history of building such developments and has always intended to build a Columbia-style community on the site.

The reason the company didn't appeal earlier, Scavo said, is that the housing and retail markets have recovered from the collapse of the early 1990s and Rouse doesn't want to wait until 2003, when the next comprehensive rezoning is scheduled.

Scavo said the zoning board was mistaken in 1993 in its view that Rouse would wait until 2003 because the company had done nothing with the property for about 30 years.

"They said back then, 'Right use, wrong time, they'll wait,' " Scavo said, referring to the zoning board's view that mixed-use was appropriate for the property but that development should wait for a decade.

"Well, we're not able to wait until 2003," he said. "I don't want them to confuse us not building with [being] patient."

Opponents said Scavo contradicted himself during his testimony.

Scavo said Rouse was unable "to develop the land under current zoning," said Karina Zimmerman, a land-use committee vice president. "That's not the case," she said. "They clearly are willing to go forward."

Opponents also pointed out that Scavo relied on projections that the county would not meet housing construction goals in the 1990 General Plan, which called for construction of 50,000 new units by 2010.

The county has issued about 10,400 building permits since 1990, about 2,400 permits short of the General Plan's goal by 1996, Scavo said.

Democratic Del. Shane Pendergrass, who represents that area, is a former County Council member and opposes rezoning, said the county already has too many homes and not enough businesses.

Residents worry that if Rouse moves ahead with its plan to construct 1,395 single-family homes, the projected addition of 325 elementary, 152 middle and 188 high school students will strain county services.

Scavo said a mixed-use site would blend with the surrounding neighborhood and would have more open space than an employment zoning designation would allow.

Pub Date: 11/06/97

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