Report critical of land policies

Friends of Maryland faults county zoning

Howard County

October 10, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

A pro-Smart Growth group is giving Howard County lackluster grades for its land development record -- including a D-minus for agricultural preservation.

The 1000 Friends of Maryland, which is to issue a regional report card today after analyzing land-use policies and statistics, reprimanded Howard like a disappointed teacher for what the group considers an unacceptably large number of houses planned for the rural west, outside the area with public water and sewer lines.

"I was frankly surprised at how poorly Howard County did," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland. "In many ways we think of Howard County as the birthplace of planning -- when Columbia was developed. When we actually started to go through their policies, we found that there simply wasn't in place largely the kind of planning policies that are going to keep Howard County `Howard County.' "

FOR THE RECORD - An article about a report critical of Howard County's land policies that appeared yesterday in the Howard County edition of The Sun misquoted Jeff Everett, the county's land preservation program administrator, about an acreage amount. He said the county's goal is to preserve 30,000 acres. About 23,000 acres have been preserved. The Sun regrets the error.

In western Howard, land is zoned for one house per three acres or one house per 4.25 acres, compared with much more restrictive zoning elsewhere in the region. Only one house per 50 acres can be built on Baltimore County's agricultural land, Schmidt-Perkins noted.

The group's report states that Howard's zoning is "a fatal flaw" keeping county officials from preserving large contiguous areas of farmland.

"One house per 4.25 acres is completely unacceptable," Schmidt-Perkins said.

County government officials noted with frustration that they have not been given copies of the report, which 1000 Friends mailed yesterday morning. But the officials defended Howard's agricultural preservation record, saying that thousands of acres have been permanently snatched away from development.

"We have a large amount of local money going into ag preservation, more than most jurisdictions," said Jeff Bronow, chief of research for the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

About 23,000 acres have been preserved in Howard County, about 80 percent through agriculture easements and the rest with environmental easements, said Jeff Everett, who administers the county's land preservation program.

He has $15 million in county funds to spend on more land. Five people have applied for the money, he said.

"There's only a few Maryland counties ahead of us," he said. "Our goal is to protect 20,000 acres here -- we're getting there."

Ellicott City resident Ann Jones, vice president of the Howard County Conservancy, doesn't think the county deserves a D-minus simply for its zoning. Howard has extra development pressure because it's located between Baltimore, Washington and Frederick, she said. Several attempts to "down-zone" land in western Howard have failed.

"Agriculture preservation and agriculture zoning are two separate things, and while they work best together, there should be some credit given to both sides of that equation," Jones said. The 1000 Friends group graded counties on eight land-use "indicators" such as planning new growth. Howard earned less than stellar marks, including two grades of C, two C-minuses and the one D-minus. But the group gave the county an A-minus for its comprehensive plan process, a B for providing low- and moderate-income housing and a B-minus for efforts to revitalize and preserve existing communities.

Baltimore County fared better, Carroll County fared worse and Anne Arundel and Harford earned similar grades.

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