Panels to seek public's advice

Two committees aim to map residential, commercial growth

Work has long-term impact

July 05, 1999|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

If a pair of Howard County growth-management tools are revised, will anyone notice?

That's the problem facing members of two advisory panels studying the 1990 General Plan and the 1992 Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

An amended ordinance and new General Plan would help the county map out development well into the next millennium, and several members of both panels agree that their next task is getting residents and business owners involved in the process.

"What we do today will affect what's going to happen to you over the next 10 years," says Kathryn Mann, executive vice president of the Howard County Citizens Association and a member of the General Plan Task Force. "It would be nice if the public was more interested, but it's early in the game."

The 34-member task force will meet Wednesday to identify issues for the county Planning Board, which will help outline the next General Plan. On July 12, the 17-member Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Committee will prepare its recommendations to County Executive James N. Robey.

Public hearings on both the ordinance and General Plan are planned this year and next.

The General Plan identifies growth areas in the county, while the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance seeks to ensure that infrastructure such as roads and schools can accommodate proposed development.

The 1990 General Plan -- which won the 1991 American Planning Association Award for Outstanding Comprehensive Planning -- has drawn mixed opinions.

Although the General Plan extended public sewer and water service westward, it also preserved a good portion of the rural west. Several task force members say it has reduced the number of building permits issued annually from about 4,000 during the late 1980s to about 2,000 last year.

Environmental concerns

But some members argue that the General Plan has failed to achieve other goals, most notably those concerning the environment. Joyce Kelly, a task force member and president of Howard County Conservancy Inc., says it has not clearly defined strategies to conserve forests and control sediment pollution.

Several task force members say they believe that the next General Plan will not extend public sewer and water service to the west and that it will focus on redeveloping aging areas such as the older villages of Columbia and the U.S. 1 business corridor.

They also say they would like to see in the General Plan creation of a county environmental coordinator and require the Department of Planning and Zoning to compile an annual report on the General Plan's success to the County Council or county executive. The committee evaluating the effectiveness of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance will likely recommend minor changes to the 7-year-old regulation.

Most of those suggestions have to do with school capacity. The committee has proposed closing elementary schools to new pupils if the schools have enrollments more than 15 percent over capacity -- a cap that would have closed six schools this year.

The committee also will recommend that the county allow no more than 300 new homes in a district where elementary school enrollment exceeds 100 percent of capacity.

Members of both panels say their efforts are aimed at directing the right mix of residential and commercial growth for the county.

The General Plan "establishes a philosophy, a vision, an outline of where we're going and how we're going to use our land," says Nellie Arrington, a task force member and real estate agent. "This will affect people who live here now and people who live here 10, 20, 50 years from now."

A mission statement

Alton J. Scavo, a committee member and senior vice president of the Rouse Co., compares the General Plan to a mission statement for the county and the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance to a strategy of implementing the mission statement.

"If [a business owner] asked, `What's the philosophy of the county?' that would be it," says Scavo. "That's what you would look at before you move in."

With the first task nearly completed for both panels, the next challenge is sparking the interest of county residents.

Only 14 residents spoke at a public hearing organized by the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Committee June 7, and attendance has been sparse at weekly task force meetings.

"This is an issue that all the politicians talked about during the election and that many voters discussed," says committee member Courtney Watson. "I think people have trouble condensing the General Plan and the APFO into how it affects them. It affects them every day, from the roads they drive on to the schools their children go to."

But Peter J. Oswald, a task force member and vice president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association in Fulton, notes that the task force meetings don't allow for public input.

"They would be spectators," Oswald says of visitors attending task force meetings. "I think it would be more productive for the community to get involved later on."

Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. hopes the public doesn't wait too long.

"For the vast majority of people, they're expecting the government to keep an eye on development so that they don't have to invest their Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights," says Rutter, a committee member. "The second part of the committees' work is to get the [word] out to the constituency groups."

Pub Date: 7/05/99

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