Moving to Opportunity, Dayton-style Neighbors fear the onset of homes costing a mere $250,000 to $500,000.

November 20, 1997

JUST WHOM are we letting into Dayton? Families who shop the bargains at Nordstrom's Rack? Couples whose children attend public universities? Folks with domestic-made automobiles? Indeed, it seems that the western Howard County neighborhood may cease to exist as we know it unless the County Council approves an amendment to reduce housing densities there.

The council is being asked to stop a plan by farmer-developer Chuck Sharp to build 98 homes on 298 acres. At one to 1 1/2 acres, the lots would be so small by present standards, push mowers might even be used by some. Sacre bleu! Ted Davis, who has lived on Triadelphia Mill Road near the proposed development for nine years, may have said it best last summer: "They're stuffing houses on one-acre lots."

He was among a dozen Dayton residents who collected more than 300 signatures on petitions asking county officials to reduce the number of housing units to 30, on lots three acres or larger. About 100 residents attended a council meeting recently to demand a halt to homes, which are to be priced from $250,000 to $500,000.

The community has found a champion in Councilman C. Vernon Gray, who knows a juicy, populist issue when he sees one, but is way off track this time. Mr. Gray wants to change the county's so-called Density Exchange Option. It allows a farmer to "sell" credits to a developer who wants to build more units than zoning allows elsewhere in the county. In exchange, the farmer agrees to keep his land in agriculture.

The exchange has been praised in Howard County, a national leader in farmland preservation, as has Maryland's "Smart Growth" initiative to contain sprawl. But Mr. Gray's proposal is an attack on both fronts because it would reduce housing density and allow more farmland to be gobbled up.

Mr. Gray also wants to alter the successful 1990 General Plan to reduce the number of homes that can be built each year. His "modification," as he calls it, is a major rewrite.

The councilman raises valid questions as to whether this kind of sprawling subdivision belongs in western Howard; construction within the county's water and sewer zone would be preferable. But he must not promote anything that would compromise Howard's long-range plan or its tools to preserve agriculture.

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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