Plan to steer developers from west county

East Howard residents balk at implications of Smart Growth proposal

May 09, 2000|By Larry Carson | By Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

What a difference a decade makes.

The last time Howard County charted its future, with the 1990 General Plan, angry protesters concerned about overdevelopment packed the hearing room and John Taylor of Highland helped lead them.

At last night's county planning board hearing on the 2000 General Plan, attended by about 25 people, Taylor was in a loving mood.

"I almost want to hug you," he told Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter, who recommended no commercial development along the increasingly congested Interstate 70 corridor leading to rural western Howard.

Other speakers also praised the new plan, though some had concerns.

Taylor warned that Smart Growth could pack so much new development in the county's populous eastern areas that "you're going to clog all the roads." Smart Growth is the state policy to concentrate new growth in areas already equipped with roads and sewers.

The large mixed-use development proposed in Fulton isn't Smart Growth, Taylor said. He said Fulton, along Route 216 in southern Howard County, should stay rural, like the western county.

In 1990, Taylor said, trends in land use outside Columbia - such as clustering homes on a small portion of a building site and leaving the rest as open space, and mixed-use developments - seemed revolutionary.

"Some of us feel it was a Christmas tree for developers" because the trends allowed denser developments outside Columbia, Taylor said. This time, though, "there aren't enough major changes being proposed to work people up."

Others worried about Ellicott City and the older neighborhoods in Columbia.

Clark Schoeffield, of Worthington, said older neighborhoods such as his are in danger of being overwhelmed with traffic and growth.

Robert Bernstein, president of the Ellicott City Residents Association, said development pressure is forcing taxes to increase on small parcels of undeveloped land near his Old Columbia Pike home and developers are the only ones able to pay the higher levies.

"Preservation of the west," Bernstein said, should not be "at the expense of the east. The east right now is in more dire need of some of these open spaces."

Amy Menzer, Baltimore organizer for "1,000 Friends of Maryland," a group advocating Smart Growth, told the board that crowded highways should not be widened because businesses would move farther into the countryside, worsening traffic in the long run.

She warned that huge new shopping centers, such as Arundel Mills, which is under construction along Route 100 in Anne Arundel County, will only drain business away from older centers in Howard County.

Metropolitan-area counties should avoid this kind of competition that only produces "vacant stores," Menzer said.

Several speakers said Howard, though small, should be more of a regional leader on these issues. They said that as Columbia ages, stricter code enforcement is needed to preserve neighborhoods.

Others applauded the attention paid to the county's growing senior-citizen population.

The council is scheduled to hold three public hearings on the General Plan during the summer and vote to adopt a final plan later in the year.

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