Changes in zoning sought for U.S. 1

Planning official says problem has no single solution

January 10, 2000|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

All the talk of improving U.S. 1 in Howard County might prove futile, some business leaders say, if the county doesn't consider changing the zoning that governs much of the corridor from heavy industrial to commercial and retail use.

If the zoning laws were changed, they say, restaurants and small retail stores would probably consider setting up shop along the road, providing a service to residents and an economic boost for the county.

"From my vantage point, this is the way to go," said Allen Cornell, a county developer and member of the newly formed Route 1 Revitalization Committee. "This might be a long process, but there is no quick fix. There are a lot of things that we can do to make Route 1 look more attractive, but the long-term question is: `How do we strengthen and develop the corridor?' "

The call for a change in zoning is likely to set off a debate. Though supported by some merchants, such as Jessup restaurateur Dee Farnella, the zoning change idea faces skepticism -- if not opposition -- from a key county official.

"We need more small family-owned restaurants in this area," said Farnella, who purchased the Avanti Italian restau- rant five years ago. "There are not that many restaurants in this area. You have to fight your way against traffic to go into Columbia or Laurel, and when you get there, they just have the trendy, chain restaurants," she said. "But this is a great location."

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., chief of planning and zoning for Howard County, is not convinced.

"There is not one silver bullet that's going to fix the problem," said Rutter. "We should look at the zoning, but I don't think that creating a commercial strip on Route 1 is the answer either."

The southern portion of the corridor, from Whiskey Bottom Road to the Howard County border with the city of Laurel in Prince George's County, is zoned commercial, he said, yet it's still "the most troubling area" of U.S. 1, pointing to the area's blight. "The theory is that if we only change the zoning, things will get better -- but I just don't think that the current situation supports that conclusion," he said.

Generally, Rutter said, the east side of U.S. 1 in the county is zoned heavy industrial, while the west side has a mix of residential, industrial and a bit of commercial.

"Zoning is just one small part," Rutter said. "We have to look at tax and regulatory incentives, selective landscaping -- there are many options for us to consider."

Cornell and others say now is the time to consider a change in zoning because county officials are drafting a new general plan -- a 10-year blueprint that has set as its goal the preservation and redevelopment of such older areas as U.S. 1.

"The general plan is supposed to drive comprehensive zoning," said County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a Democrat representing southeastern Howard. After the general plan is adopted, officials would examine zoning throughout the county to see whether it's compatible with the plan, he added.

The 1990 general plan had provisions for revitalizing portions of U.S. 1, but Guzzone said the plan was not as effective as some had wished.

"Obviously, it didn't have a lot of teeth," Guzzone said, "because 10 years later, we're still talking about improving U.S. 1."

Guzzone convened the Revitalization Committee, a group of business owners who operate or do business in and around U.S. 1 in Howard County. He said he'll also solicit state and federal agencies for funds that would allow the county to create and develop a long-term plan for improving the highway.

Other officials are pushing for action, too. Del. John A. Giannetti Jr., a Democrat who represents parts of Howard and Prince George's counties, plans to introduce a bill in the General Assembly that would create a task force to make recommendations for improving U.S. 1.

"This would be a statewide analysis of the road," said Giannetti, who said he'll solicit Gov. Parris N. Glendening's support. "The more people we have to study Route 1, the better off we will be. We've got to revitalize at a state and local level and we're going to do it."

Giannetti agreed that the county ought to consider changing zoning.

"It's one of the key elements toward making things happen on U.S. 1," he said.

Farnella is eager for change.

Her restaurant has done well, and she feels that if more opened they'd help make U.S. 1 a lively place.

"People who live near Route 1 have wanted something like this to happen for years. Maybe it will soon," she said.

Pub Date: 1/10/00

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