Judge backs zoning shift

She rules board made no `error of law' on Key property

Foes fear more traffic

Funds being sought to continue fighting Rouse development

March 29, 2000|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

A major Columbia-style development in Howard County moved a step closer to reality yesterday.

Circuit Court Judge Diane O. Leasure ruled that the Howard County Zoning Board made no "error of law" when it changed zoning to make way for residential and business development on the 516.9-acre Key property in North Laurel.

The Rouse Co. plans to build a mixed-use development on the site, which straddles Interstate 95 and is bounded by Route 216 to the south and Gorman Road to the north. The development would consist of 1,200 apartments, townhouses and single-family homes and 1 million square feet of retail and service space.

Hundreds of residents had opposed the development, claiming it would strain area roads.

Gregory K. Fries, chairman of the Southern Howard Land Use Committee, a group representing several community associations that oppose the project, said his group plans to appeal the Circuit Court decision to the Board of Special Appeals.

Fries said the group, which has spent about $25,000 trying to stop the development, has planned a fund-raiser for mid-April to raise money for an appeal of Leasure's ruling, which can be found at www. sunspot.net.

Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co., called Leasure's ruling "very good news." He said he expects home sales for the property to begin in 2002.

Last week, the Rouse Co. also submitted plans to build 176 homes adjacent to the Key property, off Gorman Road in North Laurel.

Another major mixed-use plan for southeastern Howard County is in the works: G&R Maple Lawn Inc. in Fulton. That proposal calls for 1,168 housing units and 152,370 square feet of retail space on 507.9 acres.

Together, these developments could cause congestion on local roads and highways, Fries said.

"We were hoping to avoid what we're faced with right now, which is both of these large projects coming on line without the infrastructure in place," Fries said.

In June 1998, the Rouse Co. successfully petitioned the Zoning Board to rezone the Key property to make way for the proposed development. Neighbors challenged the board's decision in Circuit Court, saying the board approved the zoning change based on several faulty assumptions.

Fries said the traffic study, which estimated the Key project would generate 24,209 vehicles a day, was incomplete and did not take into account all of the planned developments in the area.

In June, the State Highway Administration expressed concern about the project's effect on traffic.

In a letter to Planning Board Chairman Robert Geiger, Neil J. Pedersen, SHA director of the Office of Planning and Preliminary Engineering, said the proposal would require Route 216 between U.S. 29 and All Saints Road to be widened to six lanes and that the bridge over Interstate 95 would also have to be widened.

But Scavo said he thinks residents aren't as concerned about traffic as they say.

"I believe they simply don't want development, and this is their way of delaying it," he said.

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