Howard Republicans act to ease pending ban on homes by reservoir

2 say project should be exempt from bill

MDE waiver needed

July 06, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Claiming that fairness demands it, Howard County Council Republicans are preparing to rescue a portion of farmer Charles Sharp's proposed 95-home development near Triadelphia Reservoir from a bill scheduled for a vote tonight.

Many residents in the Dayton area oppose the Big Branch Overlook project, on 237 acres near the Triadelphia Reservoir. The bill sponsored by Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, would effectively eliminate about 25 of the proposed homes by altering building density regulations within 2,500 feet of a reservoir.

The council's two Republicans say Sharp's project should be exempt from Gray's bill because it's already far along in the approval process. The only reason it's not exempt, they say, is that the state has refused to act on Sharp's July 1998 request for a waiver from state density regulations.

"It's not my job to decide density. I can only go by the fact that this person didn't do anything wrong," said Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican who represents the Dayton area where the homes would be built.

Kittleman said he will support the amendment submitted Thursday by fellow Republican Christopher J. Merdon, who represents Ellicott City. West Columbia Democrat Mary C. Lorsung could be the decisive third vote on the five-member council.

"I am certainly seriously considering it," she said, since the project is far along.

Gray said he will oppose the amendment, adding, "I think there are entirely too many houses in the southern part [of Sharp's project], and that's the part closest to the reservoir."

His amendment would prohibit homes on lots smaller than 2 acres within 2,500 feet of a reservoir, matching state standards. What the amendment's success would ultimately mean is unclear, however, because Sharp still needs a waiver from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

MDE officials had no comment on the case Friday. Jane T. Nishida, secretary of MDE, has accused the county of ignoring state standards in similar cases, allowing more dense development.

She has suspended the county health officer's authority to approve subdivisions, although county officials note that the local health department is actually a state agency, and the county health director is appointed by the governor.

Sharp's attorney nevertheless hopes the amendment will pass.

"I think it would solve my problem," said Alec Adams. "There is no environmental issue with this subdivision," he insisted, claiming that the clustering Sharp plans won't harm the water.

Area residents, represented by the Dayton Community Association, strongly disagree. They pleaded with the County Council at a public hearing June 21 to pass the bill as a way of ensuring less pollution in the reservoir. J. James Dieter, program administrator for MDE, also testified in favor of Gray's bill.

"Chuck Sharp should have been following the law from the beginning," said Laura Decker, an association member. "There's no reason to have 50 houses within 2,500 feet of the reservoir. I just see no possible reason why he should be grandfathered in."

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