Board delays zoning vote Plan to add uses to employment centers is vague, panel says

'We want more detail'

Residents concerned change would create more noise, traffic

November 21, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

An effort to allow warehouses, truck terminals and manufacturing centers in planned employment center zones -- the designation of the Rouse Co.'s 517-acre parcel in North Laurel -- stalled yesterday.

Members of the Howard County Planning Board complained that a proposal by the county administration to add the additional uses was too vague, delaying a vote on the matter while asking Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. for more details.

Rutter's response is expected to further limit the types of additional uses that the Rouse Co. would be allowed to develop if its plans for a Columbia-style community are not approved.

The planned employment center (PEC) designation has been widely viewed as a flop since being introduced in 1985 to attract businesses that could not be classified as either retail or manufacturing.

County officials say they want to make the changes because little of the county's 1,200 to 1,400 acres of PEC-zoned land has been developed, and they hope the added flexibility will help spark construction. But some have questioned the timing of the proposed changes, charging that the Rouse Co. will use the possibility of warehouses and trucking centers to scare opponents of the developer's plan to build the mixed-use community on its North Laurel site.

The zoning change needed for that development -- from PEC to mixed-use -- is the subject of a hearing before the county Zoning Board that continued Wednesday night with further testimony from a top Rouse official.

Yesterday, Planning Board members questioned the timing of the proposal while asking if the proposed additions -- varying from concert halls to hospitals to trucking centers -- would fit the original intent of PEC.

"We just want some more detail, information about the items being added, discussed," said board member Robert F. Geiger. "It just left too many things hanging."

Rutter said he would resubmit the proposal Dec. 3, with several possible changes, including:

More specific wording about the additional manufacturing uses allowed. In the amendment presented yesterday, added uses include manufacturing "bone, canvas, cellophane, cloth, cork, feathers, felt."

More specific limitations for warehouses and trucking centers, requiring that they be clearly related to other manufacturing centers on the site.

Residents who testified at the hearing said they are concerned that any trucking centers and warehouses allowed in PEC zones would hurt their neighborhoods by creating more noise and traffic.

"The PEC district next to my property is surrounded by residential uses," North Laurel resident Judith Haxton told the board. "While the ordinance addresses loading activity, it doesn't address outside storage and lighting, hours of operation."

Attorney John F. Breitenberg -- representing Washington parking-lot magnate Kingdon Gould Jr., who lives near the Rouse Co.'s North Laurel site -- told the board that allowing manufacturing restricted to industrial zones was inconsistent with the PEC designation.

But a Rouse executive defended the amendment.

"The uses are similar to PEC and would be compatible with it," said Joseph H. Necker Jr., vice president and director of engineering and community development. "The proposed uses are already allowed in our new town districts."

At Wednesday night's Zoning Board hearing, Alton J. Scavo, Rouse's senior vice president, was questioned about his company's desire to rezone the site from PEC to mixed-use, which would allow the construction of the 1,395-home development and the inclusion of commercial and business areas.

The parcel is south of Gorman Road and north of Route 216.

Board Member C. Vernon Gray asked Scavo how the proposed development could have a focal point -- a requirement for mixed-use -- if the tract is bisected by Interstate 95.

Scavo defended his company's plans, saying the focal point -- a retail center with a supermarket and other businesses -- was easily accessible from the other side of I-95 by the Gorman Road bridge.

He also said most of the residential communities would be buffered either by open space or employment centers.

Opponents of the zoning change contend that additional residents will crowd schools and put stress on county services.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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