Zoning law shifts aired

County Council weighs varied issues in sweeping proposal

Final vote set for May 7

No opposition heard to plan to boost housing for elderly

Howard County

April 25, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Changing zoning laws can be tricky because of the range of subjects to be covered. That's the case with the mammoth revision wending its way toward a final vote by the Howard County Council on May 7.

The measure was discussed during a two-hour council session late yesterday.

From airfields to waste, from restricting propane tank storage to manufacturing zones to guaranteeing new housing for the moderate-income elderly, the council discussed a laundry list of subjects.

Council Chairman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, good-naturedly pushed to keep a lid on rhetoric in the interests of saving time.

More than a week remains to discuss ideas and propose amendments to the bill. There was no open disagreement yesterday on the biggest part of the bill, Howard's plan to invite more housing for the younger, active elderly by creating a new zoning category, the Planned Senior Community District.

Council member C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, suggested making it easier to build small communities of various kinds of housing for the elderly by cutting the minimum number of units from 100 to 50.

Gray also suggested cutting the minimum size of age-restricted housing developments that are not in Planned Senior Community Districts from 50 to 20 units to enable builders to use smaller parcels of land. Age-restricted developments are for those 55 or older.

Council member Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, wants to guarantee 10 percent of the new housing for the moderate-income elderly. She proposed an amendment to prohibit anyone 18 or younger from living in such units for more than 90 days.

Lorsung also suggested language to "clarify" that new housing for the elderly be similar in scale and character with older buildings and have similar setbacks and landscaping.

An amendment proposed by the administration would allow a younger spouse or relative to continue living in an age-restricted unit if the owner died but would require it to be sold to another elderly person eventually.

No council member suggested changing the "floating" nature of the new zoning category, which would allow it to be applied anywhere in the county with public water and sewer service if other requirements were met.

Recent discussion has involved creation of the floating zone, which is intended to encourage construction of up to 250 homes a year for senior citizens and which is mentioned in the General Plan.

The idea is to create a legal framework for small communities of several types of housing for the elderly, ranging from one-story units for the active elderly to assisted-living and nursing home units for the frail elderly.

Planning officials said fears that builders could use the proposed law to shoehorn high-density housing into rural areas without public utilities are not valid.

Builders "can't get the OK to build those homes without approval from the Maryland Department of the Environment," said Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican who represents the rural west.

The council has taken two months instead of the usual one to discuss the bill, which grew out of the General Plan adopted by the council last year. The plan lays out goals and hopes, and the bill would put those ideas into law. The ideas include encouraging construction of up to 250 units a year of specialized housing for the elderly.

Another proposal - putting more restrictions on large church expansions - was abandoned after county officials said a federal law being tested in the courts could make such laws an unconstitutional infringement on religion.

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