Growth-limit effort stalls in council Even Gray backs away from density proposal for west county projects

'My approach over-broad'

Dozens of residents disappointed by delay by councilman

November 25, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Two new growth restrictions proposed by Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray stalled at last night's council meeting.

Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, had proposed lowering the county's growth cap by hundreds of homes a year and changing the rules to make it harder for west county developers to build dense housing projects.

But the change in the county's growth cap is on the verge of dying for lack of support. And Gray himself has decided to delay action on the proposal affecting the density of west county projects.

Two months ago, Gray proposed lowering Howard's growth cap -- the number of new homes allowed each year -- from 2,740 to 2,000. He later changed his mind, proposing a compromise number of 2,500 new homes each year.

But now even that number is in jeopardy.

He has the tentative support of Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat. But the council's GOP majority has not embraced the proposal, which would require a change in Howard's General Plan.

"I'm not too crazy about tinkering with the General Plan," said Council Chairman Dennis R. Schrader, a Republican, adding he might change his mind on the issue.

Councilman Darrel E. Drown, an Ellicott City Republican, wants to leave the growth cap unchanged.

"I really do think it's going well," Drown said. "I think it's working right now."

The third Republican member, Councilman Charles C. Feaga, has excused himself from the issue to avoid a possible conflict of interest. The development of his family farm has been affected by the growth cap in previous years.

Unless Gray finds a third supporter for lowering the growth cap, his proposal will die when the council votes on the matter Monday.

But the real surprise last night was Gray's backing away from the west county density rules.

His GOP rivals on the County Council raised their eyebrows as Gray announced his plan to temporarily suspend legislative action on what's known as the Density Exchange Option, or DEO for short.

The program, permitted in much of western Howard, allows developers to increase the density of their projects by purchasing the development rights to farmland.

Advocates say the program is an inexpensive way for the county to foster the permanent preservation of farmland.

But many Dayton residents recently have complained that the program has allowed developer Charles Sharp to build too densely on a 298-acre tract, where he plans 98 homes.

The program now permits developers to build one house for every 2 acres of development rights purchased. Gray's proposal would have allowed developers to build one house for every 3 acres of development rights purchased.

The effect would have been to make developers pay more and protect more farmland if they wanted to build as densely as Sharp proposes.

Dozens of residents came to a hearing last week to support the proposal. But last night, Gray abruptly announced plans to suspend action on it, saying it would have affected too many other projects in the county.

"I was concerned that my DEO approach was a little over-broad," Gray said.

He said he plans to deal with the density of the Dayton development in another proposal, perhaps even an altered version of the one he temporarily withdrew last night.

But his action disappointed slow-growth activist John Taylor of Highland.

"I feel that Councilman Gray raised the hopes of a lot of citizens, then seemed to pull the rug on his own bill," Taylor said. "It was very disappointing."

Peter J. Esseff, president of the Dayton Community Association, had no gripe with Gray's action and was hopeful a new proposal would deal with the issues in Dayton.

But Drown said after the meeting, "It was pretty strange."

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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