Councilman, 100 residents join forces Gray's amendment would lower ratio of homes to acres

Push is for slower growth

Planned density on Dayton site raises objections

November 18, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

A councilman from east Columbia and about 100 residents of Dayton in the west county joined forces last night in an effort to persuade the Howard County Council to approve an amendment to the 1990 General Plan that would help slow residential development.

The council held a hearing last night on the amendment introduced by Democratic Councilman C. Vernon Gray that would lower the home-to-acre ratio of the Density Exchange Option program from one home per 2 acres to one home per 3 acres.

The amendment was introduced in reaction to Glenwood farmer and developer Charles Sharp's plan to build 98 homes on a 298-acre tract in Dayton, where many residents question the project's planned high density and potential impact on infrastructure.

"We are not planning. We're throwing houses into the county as fast as we can," said Ted Davis, who lives on Triadelphia Road across from the biggest section of the proposed Big Branch Overlook subdivision. Davis criticized what he said was the project's high density.

Another Dayton resident opposed the amendment.

"This would be totally unfair to the developer to pull the rug out from under him in the middle of this [subdivision approval] process," said Jim Sanborn, who lives on Ten Oaks Road. "If it ain't broke, please don't fix it."

The Density Exchange Option 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 amendment would change that to one house for every 3 acres.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning, pointed out that the program has preserved more than 1,300 acres, which would have cost the county's Land Agricultural Preservation Program more than $7 million to purchase.

On Oct. 23, the Planning Board voted 3-0 -- two members were absent -- against Gray's amendment.

Board member Joan Lancos criticized the attempt to change the General Plan, the blueprint for the county's development until 2010.

"It's working," Lancos said of the General Plan. "It's doing exactly what we wanted it to do. If we pick at pieces of it, I think we could destroy the very fabric of the General Plan."

Gray acknowledged that the Density Exchange Option program has "worked in most cases." But he noted that the General Plan is a guide and can be changed.

"When you face reality, you have to make some modifications," Gray said. "I think there are some serious concerns about Big Branch Overlook and the development there."

Sharp, who has been farming in the county since 1970, questioned the timing of the amendment, noting that voters will elect a new County Council next year.

"Zoning has become an election tool," Sharp said. "I wish I could sustain more houses there [on the proposed site] so that I could save more farmland."

That answer drew derisive laughter from some in the audience.

Dean Coleman, a Dayton resident for 24 years, said traffic on local roads has worsened, especially on Route 32.

"I already see queuing up before I get to Clarksville going east," said Coleman, who recalled that Howard Road, where he lives, was once a gravel road. "I already see queuing up before I get to Columbia. Are we going to continue to grow like this or be a rural area like we are now?"

Deborah Robbins, second vice president of the Dayton Community Association, stressed that the civic group is not against development.

"But we're saying not at more than 100 units," she said. Gray's bill "is a start," Robbins added.

On Dec. 1, the council is scheduled to vote on the home-per-acre amendment and another Gray amendment that would lower the limit of 2,740 new residential units a year to 2,500.

Gray contends that residential growth is outpacing business growth in Howard, causing an imbalance in the tax base and a burden on roads, schools and other services.

But developers point out that even as they try to meet the demands of a growing new-home market, figures show that about 2,000 residential units have been built in the county each year since 1993, well below the Gray's proposed limit.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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