Howard residents work to block development

507-acre plan is focus of long-running debate

March 13, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

It's a Wednesday evening and Peter Oswald is pressed for time.

After dashing to his Beaufort Park home from his job as an auditor with the federal government, Oswald quickly greets his family. Dinner -- if he is lucky -- is his wife's homemade vegetable soup, which he gulps down hot from the microwave before rushing off to the meetings he has been attending since Sept. 1.

Oswald is one of several residents who have been battling the proposed development of Iager farm in southwestern Howard County. As the meetings roll into their sixth month -- making it the longest-running case ever heard by the Howard County Zoning Board -- some residents who oppose the project have devoted countless hours to prevent it from being built.

For 27 meetings, opponents, supporters and lawyers have met before the Zoning Board, listening to hours of testimony as both sides present their cases. At the center of the sometimes heated debate is the approval of a site development plan for the mixed-use project to be built on the 507-acre turkey farm in Fulton.

The proposed Maple Lawn Farms, with its plan for commercial space and almost 1,200 residential units, sparked debate almost from the beginning. At times, tensions have run high, and it has led to a rift in the community between the Iager family and some residents who complain that a mixed-use development does not fit with the area.

Opponents say that conviction has fueled their passion and sustained their determination to fight despite limited resources.

"It hasn't been fun, but I made the determination to stick with it," said Tom Flynn, a married father of two who has missed only one meeting and who serves as the president of the North Laurel Civic Association.

For Oswald, fighting the good fight has meant at least 20 hours a week devoted to maintaining a database of supporters, organizing the order of who will testify against the project and studying county zoning regulations. His wife of 28 years, Sally Oswald, said her husband balances that while dealing with family responsibilities such as caring for their elderly parents and spending time with their two children and grandchild.

"It definitely has taken on a life of its own," Sally Oswald said. "It's a dedicated group of people that has put in their time, heart and energy into this. Even if we don't win, we have to at least try."

The residents' efforts have even garnered respect from Stewart J. Greenebaum, who proposed the Iager farm development. Greenebaum said opponents set out to delay the project and "have invested an inordinate amount of time" in doing just that.

"In my mind, in one respect it's good for people to be activists and to fight for what they believe in," Greenebaum said. "But on the other hand, the point at which the time should have been invested was when the land was zoned" for mixed use.

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