Opponents attack Rouse Co. request for parcel rezoning Developer wants to built project with 1,400 homes

January 22, 1998|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

An opponent of a Rouse Co. proposal to build 1,400 homes and commercial buildings in North Laurel told the Howard County Zoning Board last night that the county needs commercial development more than it needs housing.

"There is a huge need for more business and economic development in Howard County," Columbia resident Hans Meeder said. "Our county is increasingly becoming a hub for the Washington-Baltimore region. We need revenue" to support the growing population.

Last night's hearing was the third at which the Zoning Board took testimony from opponents of Rouse's plan to develop a 522-acre parcel of land in North Laurel it has owned for 28 years.

Many of the opponents belong to the Howard County Southern Land Use Committee, an umbrella organization of citizen groups that is fighting the rezoning Rouse needs to build the development. The hearings have been prolonged because of the holiday season and last week's inclement weather.

For the past three months, Rouse officials have defended their proposal to build the Columbia-style development north of the Montgomery County border, saying it would be well-planned and better for local neighborhoods than a primarily industrial site.

State Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat who represents the area, opposes rezoning. She said last week that the county has too many homes and not enough businesses.

Meeder said that while many opponents of the Rouse plan realize that large-scale growth in the area is all but inevitable, they worry that more residences -- particularly townhouses and condominiums -- would burden services and roads and crowd schools.

Stuart Kohn, a Laurel resident, said the area's roads are insufficient to handle the development and should be upgraded before any construction begins on the Rouse property.

"Right now, our roads are designed for rural areas [and] not a municipality or district area," Kohn said. "This was once a pristine, rural county. Are you prepared to see it change?"

Rouse plans to build 1,395 single-family homes and contends that the residences would add 325 elementary, 152 middle and 188 high school students to area schools.

However, Rouse must get the zoning changed on the proposed site from employment, which allows retail office buildings and shopping centers, to mixed-use (residential and commercial).

Under Maryland law, Rouse must prove that a mistake was made in the 1993 zoning of the site or that the neighborhoods have changed significantly and the site warrants rezoning.

One of Rouse's main arguments involves the 1993 General Plan and the Zoning Board's feeling at that time that Rouse would wait until 2003, when the next comprehensive rezoning is scheduled, to develop the land.

Last month, Alton J. Scavo, a Rouse senior vice president, testified that during those 1993 discussions, board members said they felt mixed-use was the correct designation but that the time was not right for development so the zoning designation was not changed.

Scavo said the Zoning Board was mistaken in 1993 in its view that because Rouse had done nothing with the property for about 30 years, it would wait until 2003 to develop it.

Rouse officials have said that the company feels more comfortable with mixed-use developments, that it has a history of building such developments and has always intended to build a Columbia-style community on the site.

Thomas E. Dernoga, an attorney who represents the Southern Howard Land Use Committee, said he will call a witness who will present evidence that the 1993 zoning was not a mistake.

Closing arguments in the case could be made at the Feb. 4 hearing.

Rouse also has said traffic would be worse for residents if it built only commercial buildings. It plans to build a loop road and connectors to other thoroughfares around the proposed development, which would be south of Gorman Road and north of Route 216 and would be bisected by Interstate 95.

Rouse's plan calls for 88 acres for business and office use, 182 acres for open space and 182 acres for residences. Current zoning allows for 4 million square feet of commercial development.

Pub Date: 1/22/98

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