Planning Board ponders changes

Proposed regulations would affect housing, farms, development

September 06, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Planning Board took a first look last night at a flurry of proposed regulations that would change how developers do business and how farmers farm, and broaden housing choices by altering zoning rules along U.S. 1.

Board members, charged with making recommendations about the changes to elected officials, spent the evening listening to the suggestions of residents, builders and farmers - who had plenty to say.

The proposed amendments are prompted by the 2000 General Plan, the document that maps out how the county should change during the next two decades.

The Planning Board considered actions last night that would:

Allow people to build townhouses and apartments along U.S. 1 on land now zoned only for mobile homes and single-family houses. County Councilman C. Vernon Gray said he is asking for the change to give people more housing choices and increase the number of places to live on a modest income. Under his proposal, a percentage of the apartments and townhouses would have to be priced moderately.

Permit farmers to sell more of their crops - as well as food products grown elsewhere - directly from their property.

Require that developers meet with residents before submitting plans for new homes on land in the eastern part of the county that abuts existing development.

Alter a regulation that allows developers to trade density rights from one parcel to another and increase the number of houses they can build in one spot by up to one house per 2 acres, while conserving the other tract. Currently, the rules do not take into account whether the land receiving extra density has steep slopes or flood plains. Under the proposal, those environmentally sensitive areas would be deducted before calculating the number of homes allowable.

Eliminate the practice of changing boundary lines between properties by deed conveyance. McLaughlin said the provision was meant to allow minor adjustments, but developers have used it to make major swaps between parcels. The result, she said, is that developers arrange subdivisions so as to take advantage of another provision that allows them to build an extra house on the parcels. "There's a lot of game playing," she said. The new rules would require the county to approve all boundary-line changes.

All the proposals - except one - must be approved by the County Council. Gray's request to allow apartments and townhouses along U.S. 1 will go before the Zoning Board.

Residents comment

Last night, residents praised and criticized the proposed regulations.

Dennis Luck, chairman of the Sierra Club's Howard County chapter, said his group generally supports the amendments, which he says will help the environment.

But he said he wondered why many of the new opportunities proposed for farmers would require permits.

The need for permits, he said, "could be counterproductive."

Melanie Moser of the Howard County Home Builders Association said that other counties require developers to meet with residents before submitting subdivision plans, but that these jurisdictions send a government official to the get-togethers.

"What you're really looking for at these meetings is that there be a referee?" asked Joan Lancos, the Planning Board's chairwoman.

"Exactly," Moser said.

Treating large animals

Stuart Scheinberg, who has a veterinary office in western Howard County, wants to build a hospital to treat large animals such as horses but found it was not permissible. Backed by a dozen clients in the audience, he asked the board to consider another amendment to the regulations - one that would allow such a facility.

The two nearest surgical hospitals for farm animals are out of state, he testified, and some animals die en route.

Several residents asked the board to be wary of allowing shared septic systems in western Howard. Barbara Sollner-Webb of Laurel, who is concerned that the systems could fail and pollute drinking water, reminded board members that land use in Howard affects reservoirs on which people outside the county rely.

"Please, let [shared septic systems] be tested out by someone other than your southern neighbors, who have to drink it," she said.

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