Council crafts a compromise on restriction of large tracts

Bill would link funding for roads, development approval

June 03, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Responding to voters' pleas to control growth, Howard County Council members reached a compromise yesterday on a bill that would restrict large village-style developments such as the Iager Farm project in Fulton.

Large projects combining homes and businesses could be delayed up to three years unless funding for road improvements required by the projects is projected in the County Capital Improvement Master Plan or the Maryland Consolidated Transportation Program. Under the bill, scheduled for a formal vote Monday night, developments would be automatically approved in the fourth year that they are proposed, regardless of road funding.

Council members said they expect the 1,168-home Iager Farm proposal to be covered by the new law, because it hasn't been approved. The first hearing on the project is this month, and many residents in the area oppose the proposal, suggesting the county's evaluation process will take time.

Whether the project would be delayed by years because of the law is not clear. Developer Stewart J. Greenebaum and his attorneys would not comment yesterday.

The bill is a compromise, forged after opposition arose to the initial proposal from Laurel-Savage Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a Democrat who was pushing earlier this year to stop developers from erecting mixed-use projects until roads were completed.

"It's a good balance of continued predictability for development and financial needs and more comfort and knowing what to anticipate from a community perspective," Democratic council member Mary C. Lorsung said of the bill. She's the sponsor of the key amendment to Guzzone's original measure.

"It's a reasonable approach to take," County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray said. "A draconian approach hardly serves anyone's interest. We want to see that the roads are provided, and this gives us four years to provide funding."

"We're past that point in either case, but it sounds more workable than what was proposed," said Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co., whose huge Key Property mixed-use project in North Laurel has been approved. "What was originally there [in Guzzone's proposal] lost control of zoning for Howard County, and left it to the state. It would have been easy for the state to pull something out of the budget, and the county would have no other recourse than to stop the project."

It was Guzzone's specificity in his goals for curtailing growth that helped him defeat Republican Wanda Hurt in November. He said he would work to defeat projects such as Iager Farm.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the county's planning chief, said that Iager Farms apparently would fail the bill's roads test because a key road has not been funded.

"It would not pass the test for the general plan because the Hopkins Road interchange is not funded. At some point in time in that development it's necessary," Rutter said. "Whether the current capacity is there isn't the point. If there's a road for the general plan, [the question] is: Is it funded for construction?"

Result pleases Guzzone

Though the bill isn't as strong as he had planned before discussions of it, Guzzone said he was happy with the result.

"Essentially, it falls in with what I've been thinking from the beginning -- to assure that roads are there when they're needed," Guzzone said. "Large developments will be stopped in their tracks if roads aren't in place."

Though Greenebaum declined to comment on the matter yesterday, Guzzone said conversations with one of the developer's attorneys, Richard B. Talkin, were promising. Guzzone said that Greenebaum's representatives weren't pleased with the latest proposal but found it workable.

"It's not their preference, but they believe that it was very much something they can live with," Guzzone said. "The fundamental problem was that these projects could not be financed without some level of predictability. This allowed them predictability from a financial perspective."

Other parts of the bill include provisions setting requirements for open space (35 percent of the area) and recreation (10 percent of the open space).

Community leaders offered mixed reactions to the bill. Some said they were pleased. Since the average time for building developments is three years, the bill could add four more years.

Thomas Flynn of the North Laurel Civic Association agreed with the assessment of council members that the bill in its current form puts the burden on the county and state to build roads.

"As long as the funding is there, it's an indication that the roads will be fairly timely," Flynn said. "I still have the reservations, but I'm willing to trust our political leaders enough that if the money's there, they will spend it in a timely fashion."

Deal called `a watering down'

Others, such as Peter Oswald of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association and Gregory Fries of the Southern Howard County Land Use Committee, complained that the compromise bill is weak.

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