Housing dispute to get airing Howard developers, activists meet today on 2,000-home plan

December 13, 1997|By Craig Timberg and Jill Hudson | Craig Timberg and Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's next big development battle will begin taking shape this morning at a meeting between community activists and the developers of a Columbia-style community on 800 acres in Fulton.

G&R Maple Lawn Inc. is to unveil plans for the first 470 acres of the project, which eventually would include 2,000 homes just west of U.S. 29, between Route 216 and Johns Hopkins Road. The largest piece is Maple Lawn Farms, a turkey farm owned by Eugene and Charles Iager Jr.

The project, which includes 100 acres for schools, would become Howard's largest housing development since the Rouse began building Columbia on 14,000 acres of farmland 30 years ago.

Community activists have warned that the Fulton project could double the area's population, overwhelming the schools and roads of the southern Howard community, now a mix of farms and neighborhoods.

"This area is just not prepared for that many new residences," said Karina Zimmerman, president of the Hunters Creek Homeowners Association, representing a nearby community.

The Fulton project might not become as controversial as the Rouse Co.'s plans to build a 1,400-home community on 517 acres in North Laurel, a few miles from Fulton.

But if both projects get built, they would bring a housing boom to southern Howard, a prospect that has homeowners worried and local politicians talking about the high cost of development and whether more growth controls are needed.

The issue is emerging as key to every major county race in 1998, particularly in the southern voting districts and Ellicott City, which is in the final phases of its own development boom.

The Zoning Board, composed of the five members of the County Council, is reviewing the Rouse project, which requires a zoning change before it can proceed.

The Fulton project needs no zoning change. Howard's 1990 General Plan calls for the 800 acres in Fulton to be developed as a mixed-use project, a designation requiring a mix of homes, businesses and open space on the model of Columbia.

"I think people realize that this one is going to happen," said Gregory K. Fries, president of the Southern Howard Land Use LTC Committee, an opponent of the Rouse project. "We cannot prevent the coming of [the mixed-use community] here."

Today's meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Columbia office of lawyer Richard B. Talkin, who represents G&R Maple Lawn Inc. Talkin invited several community activists to the meeting -- a common practice before development plans are formally submitted to county officials.

He did not return phone messages yesterday.

After developers submit the plans, county planners, the Planning Board and the Zoning Board will each review the project. The final decision belongs to the Zoning Board.

Debate is likely to focus on the capacity of Route 216 and Johns Hopkins Road, and their intersections with U.S. 29.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker has offered to split the cost of improving those intersections, now controlled by traffic lights, by making them elevated highway-style junctions with exit ramps and no lights.

The state has balked at paying the other half of the cost of the intersection improvements, estimated at a total of $40 million.

"I think it's going to be just as much a problem traffic-wise as the Rouse property," said Bill Waff, president of the Savage Community Association.

School capacity is also an issue, although Howard's school system has bought 100 acres in the Fulton mixed-use area to build an elementary school, a middle school and a high school.

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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