Mixed-use development bill still undecided

Council members to meet again to settle road rules

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

Slogging toward a way to make large village-style developments more acceptable to residents, the Howard County Council has made a decision: one more meeting.

A work session discussion yesterday produced no agreement on what council members agree is the crucial element of Councilman Guy J. Guzzone's bill to tighten regulations on mixed-use developments (MXD) -- roads.

Guzzone, a Laurel-Savage Democrat, presented his colleagues with seven options -- ranging from requiring that roads be open before each phase of development starts to grandfathering approvals for two proposed developments in Laurel and Fulton. Chairman C. Vernon Gray produced an eighth -- removing mention of roads from the bill -- and the council scheduled another discussion meeting next week before its vote June 7.

"I don't see the votes for Vernon's amendment. That's certainly not acceptable to me," Guzzone said, noting that even if Gray's idea were approved, the bill would double the amount of open space required for recreation and require a fiscal impact statement to show the project's effect on the county.

Requiring 10 percent open space for recreation rather than the 30 percent Guzzone had suggested seemed to draw general agreement yesterday.

"It's something we can chew on," Gray said about the road options, suggesting another meeting at 8 a.m. June 2.

Guzzone introduced his bill in late January, with conceptual support from County Executive James N. Robey and from other council members -- all of whom campaigned last fall as advocates of growth control.

The bill has been delayed repeatedly as county planners, community groups, developers and council members struggle to find a balance between residents' fears about too much traffic and crowded schools, and developers' fears they might be regulated out of business. Others fear the changes may be too late to stop the wave of development that changed Howard County from farms to suburban cul-de-sacs.

County planners are concerned that too many restrictions would discourage builders from creating mixed-use developments, which planners see as a valuable tool for mixing homes, businesses and offices in one large community instead of traditional tract developments. Those create more problems, they believe, because they lack flexibility that mixed-use projects have under the law.

The Howard County business community launched an all-out assault on the proposed law as introduced at a council hearing in mid-April, charging that the bill is discriminatory, unconstitutional and would be the death of flexibility in mixed-use projects.

Much of that attack came from developer Stuart Greenebaum and his attorneys, who said his G&R Maple Lawn Inc. has spent more than $7 million to develop a large, mixed-use project of more than 1,000 homes, offices and commercial space in Fulton, west of U.S. 29 in southern Howard. The only other large project, a similar Rouse development straddling Route 216 five miles to the east, wouldn't be affected by any changes in the law, county officials agree.

Greenebaum attended yesterday's meeting and tried not to inject himself further into the debate. "It's a county decision," he said. "MXD is worth saving."

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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