PEC and MXD spell R-A-T? Howard County: Some residents think proposed zoning definition change is a dirty trick.

November 26, 1997

DESPITE HOWARD COUNTY Executive Charles I. Ecker's reputation for honesty, not everyone trusts his administration all the time.

Earlier this year, Columbia residents contended that Mr. Ecker reneged on his promise to build an interchange to ease congestion at the busy intersection of Snowden River Parkway and Route 175.

Now, residents in North Laurel who are fighting a huge mixed-use development planned near their community are suggesting that his administration is using a false pretense to manipulate them into accepting the project.

Southeastern county residents are battling a proposal by the Rouse Co. to build a 517-acre, mixed-use center at Interstate 95 and Route 216.

The county's Department of Planning and Zoning and the planning board have recommended revising zoning on the land from planned employment center (PEC) to mixed-use center (MXD). The zoning board will vote on the change after a series of public hearings.

But a twist arose recently when county Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. proposed to expand the definition of PEC districts to permit more manufacturing, more warehousing and more distribution.

Mr. Rutter says the proposal came after representatives of property holders in PEC districts, including Columbia-based Rouse and others, complained that it is difficult to attract companies with the current restraints. Broadening the definition of PEC to permit more uses could lure research firms that want to distribute products from the same sites at which they develop them, he says. That is essential to bolster the county's biotechnology and high technology portfolio.

But North Laurel residents smell a rat. They see the proposal to expand the definition of PEC zoning as an implicit threat to open their neighborhood to big trucking companies unless they accept the Rouse project. Mr. Rutter responds that Howard County must straighten out zoning language before drafting its next general plan.

The Ecker administration makes a good case for expanding the definition of PEC, especially if the change will attract high-tech companies. But the timing is unfortunate.

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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