The Howard County Zoning Board appears divided over a decision on the proposed rezoning the Rouse Co. needs to build a 522-acre Columbia-style project in North Laurel.
After hearing closing arguments in the contentious case at a public hearing Wednesday night, four board members made statements that put them at odds over the case -- two in favor of the zoning change, two against.
Now one board member, C. Vernon Gray, appears to have the swing vote in the decision, which could pave the way for the largest real estate development in Howard County in nearly 30 years.
Wednesday night's meeting was expected to end in a vote concluding months of debate on the zoning change.
But the only thing the board could agree on Wednesday night was the date for another meeting to try to decide the issue. A public meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday.
Zoning board member Mary C. Lorsung said yesterday that the board's decision to reconvene left her "flabbergasted. But I guess the only one who really has a feel for what else needs to be resolved or what questions need to be answered is Vernon.
"That kind of leaves you not knowing how long it could take to come to a vote," Lorsung said.
Efforts to reach Gray yesterday were unsuccessful. Under Maryland law, board members cannot comment on the particulars of an unresolved case. The Zoning Board is made up of members of the County Council.
To build the site it envisions, Rouse must have the property rezoned from the planned employment center (PEC) zoning it already has to mixed-use development (MXD). To do so, Rouse must now prove that a mistake was made in 1993 when that Zoning Board named the site PEC.
The current board now must decide if the Zoning Board in 1993 made incorrect or incomplete assumptions in assigning PEC zoning instead of mixed-used zoning.
"I think Vernon Gray wasn't prepared to vote one way or the other," said Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co. "It's a long, complicated case with a lot of emotion on both sides."
Scavo said Gray's decision not to vote "was not a surprise given the complexity and length of the hearings. It's probably wise that they're all giving it more time."
State Del. Shane Pendergrass, a former Howard council member who voted against a mixed-use designation for the Rouse property in 1993, said board members should take time to come to a decision in this case, since the stakes are high.
"There could be a bit of political maneuvering going on," Pendergrass said. "There's a county executive race coming up, and there are two members of the County Council who are running in that race," she said, referring to Republican Councilmen Dennis R. Schrader and Charles C. Feaga.
"If they're concerned about support from communities, I would think they'd be careful here," she said.
Opponents of the proposal have been fighting Rouse's petition for the zoning change. Members of the Southern Howard County Land Use Committee have said that while they realize growth in their community was inevitable, they worry that a sudden influx of residences would further burden existing services and roads and crowd schools.
Lorsung said she hopes Monday's meeting will produce a decision in the 4-month-old case.
And while Gray may be the swing vote in the case at this point, that could change.
"If there's one thing that I know about these zoning procedures, [it] is that there's no consistency in voting records," she said. "No matter what someone may think, it's not over till the fat lady sings.
"I'm not going to try to guess how this thing will come out," Lorsung said.
Pub Date: 2/20/98