Councilman seeks limits on building

Guzzone proposes controls on mixed-use developments

Developers are wary

Village-style projects such as Rouse plan, Iager farm at issue

January 26, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Heeding election-year voter concerns, a Howard County Council member has proposed tough restrictions on village-style projects in the fast-developing suburb, launching Howard's first battle over growth in 1999.

Guy J. Guzzone, a Democrat and freshman councilman from the Laurel area, would put new controls on mixed-use developments, typically large projects that mix residential, commercial and employment uses on one tract of land.

While many growth-control activists might be pleased, some developers are wary of Guzzone's ideas, which could lead to rounds of counterproposals by advocates on all sides.

"These developments strike fear in the hearts of established communities," said County Executive James N. Robey. "I think Guy is trying to do the right thing," he said, noting he wasn't familiar with details of the proposal.

One detail would require that roads be built and open to traffic before final subdivision plans are approved by the county.

Mixed-use developments are debated in much of the region, from the nearly 900-home Avalon project, going up along Reisterstown Road in Pikesville, to two proposed developments that would add 2,500 homes over the next decade in southern Howard County.

Residents fear crowded schools and roads, while builders object to what they say is costly over-regulation.

"I'm trying to bring a little more certainty to the outcome of the mixed-use development, and the outcome on surrounding communities," said Guzzone.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., county planning director, worries that too much regulation could discourage builders from using mixed-use zoning -- a tool planners consider progressive because of its flexibility.

"Why would anyone volunteer to do that, unless you like pain?" he said. "We're trying to encourage these things."

Thomas W. Ballentine, director of government affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Maryland, criticized Guzzone's proposal for restricting the design flexibility that makes mixed-use developments work. Without that, he said, developers will opt for smaller traditional housing or commercial projects.

Guzzone is listening more to people like Greg Fries, president of the Southern Howard Land Use Committee, who said a mixed-use zone should be relabeled "an opportunity zone for developers."

His group has opposed a Rouse Co. plan to create a village along Route 216 near Laurel and another large project proposed three miles west in Fulton.

Guzzone proposed his measures in response to the controversies over these projects. Although the Rouse Co.'s venture has passed most county hurdles and would not be affected, the Iager farm project near Fulton would be, because it has not been submitted to officials.

The councilman's proposal must first go to the county Planning Board Feb. 24. In addition to the provision for completing new roads early on, it would require:

That a detailed 20-year projection of financial costs vs. benefits to the county be prepared as part of a planning department recommendation on each project.

That at least 30 percent of all open space be usable for active recreation.

That developers more aggressively search out and notify community groups of their plans.

Although many aren't familiar with the details, community and political leaders are praising Guzzone's initiative as one that is needed. Among them are fellow council members C. Vernon Gray, a Columbia Democrat and council chairman, and Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican.

Rouse Co. officials say new rules aren't needed. "Frankly, the land-use controls in place are already adequate. We've just gone through a very exhausting process," said David E. Forester, vice president and senior development director of Howard Research and Development, an affiliate of the company.

Forester said "some of [Guzzone's] requirements are really excessive," though he noted he hasn't studied the specific proposals. Requiring 30 percent of open space be usable for active recreation, he said, "would mean effectively it would be much more" than 30 percent, because of requirements for buffers.

In addition, he said, the county's adequate public facilities law imposes fees for new developments that are used to pay the costs of new roads.

At the other extreme is John W. Taylor, a slow-growth advocate and past president of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth.

He opposes the mixed-use concept, calling it "a flashier, trendy way of raising density," and opposes the Smart Growth concept. In Howard County, he said, the 1,168-unit Iager farm proposal in Fulton would convert farmland and 3-acre homesites into a huge community. "Why isn't that growth being redirected to a semi-urban area?" he asked.

Thomas Flynn, president of the North Laurel Civic Association, which has fought the Rouse proposal, says his members want more than just promises or plans about future roads. "You don't just approve these because you've got paper roads," he said.

"We want to see at least the right of way in place," he said.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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