Bill to restrict development in Patuxent watershed debated House measure is given little chance of passing

March 26, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Supporters of a bill that would curtail development in the Patuxent watershed told state legislators yesterday that the measure would protect the environment, but opponents said it would destroy local autonomy and slash property values.

The bill, sponsored by three Columbia Democrats and 11 other state delegates, would restrict building in the watershed for the Triadelphia and T. Howard Duckett reservoirs, both part of the Patuxent River along Howard's southern border.

Supporters say the measure is designed to protect the water supply of about 1.5 million people in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, mostly by restricting building on 46,000 acres in western Howard.

"At this point, Howard is going in one direction" in environmental protection, Susan Gray, a Highland slow-growth activist, told members of the House Environmental Matters Committee. "P.G. and Montgomery are going in the other."

Legislators say the measure has little chance of passing out of committee.

"There's always a chance," said a sponsor of the bill, Del. Barbara Frush, a Prince George's Democrat. "But the chances are really minimal. [Delegates] are very concerned about local VTC jurisdictional lines."

But that didn't keep opponents from testifying in force yesterday.

County officials, worried that the legislature would usurp local zoning controls, and farmers, builders and land-use lawyers slammed the bill, saying it was a veiled attempt to curtail development.

"It's an intrusion into Howard County's own zoning," said Republican County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, who is running for county executive. "It would end any incentives for anyone to continue owning property."

The measure would limit development to one home per 5 acres, while current zoning allows western Howard homes on as little as 3 acres. It would also restrict cluster projects.

The bill would affect two controversial development proposals in western Howard -- a 116-unit condominium complex in Glenwood and a 98-home project in Dayton -- that residents have been fighting for months in hearings and meetings.

Residents say those projects would overwhelm roads and dump pollutants into streams feeding the reservoirs. While some say residents are cloaking their desire to curtail building behind support for the bill, residents themselves say they just want to protect the environment.

"This is a clean-drinking-water bill, nothing more," said Diana Reich, vice president of the Dayton Community Association.

But legislators are still wary.

"It will really open up a can of worms," said Del. Michael H. Weir, a Baltimore County Democrat. "The state is being asked to interfere with local zoning prerogatives."

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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