Zoning issues focus of disputes

Animal hospital among proposals aired at hearing

October 16, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The tension in Howard County's continuing transformation from sleepy farming community to suburban magnet showed in several ways last night as the County Council held a public hearing on a variety of bills.

One measure, proposing changes in rural zoning, is supposed to help the county's remaining farmers by allowing more kinds of farm-related businesses, though some residents object.

For example, should a hospital for large animals be allowed on agricultural preservation land near homes in Glenwood? Should a landowner in Fulton be able to bring customers to a pick-your-own fruit farm through residential streets?

FOR THE RECORD - An article published yesterday in the Howard County edition of The Sun about a County Council public hearing Monday night on agricultural zoning issues mistakenly reported the number of homes in the Pleasant View Drive community of Fulton. Residents there oppose establishment of a pick-your-own farm near their homes. There are 45 homes in three adjoining developments.
The Sun regrets the error.

Veterinarian Stuart Scheinberg and horse lovers said his proposed 10,000- to 12,000-square-foot facility on Route 97 - which would be Maryland's only large-animal hospital - would be a perfect fit. Zoning attorney Thomas Meachum, representing his nearby Riggs Meadows community, sees it otherwise.

"That's a commercial operation," Meachum said, noting as concerns the size of the operation and the lights and noise it would bring.

Residents of 465 homes in Fulton, in the Pleasant View Drive area, complained that plans for a pick-your-own farm near them would attract heavy traffic during warm months when their children would be outdoors.

"It would create a retail business in a residential area," said Larry Tyson, president of the Fulton Manor East Homeowners Association.

"You're talking about a disaster," said resident Mitchell Caplan.

Tim Barkley, Howard County Farm Bureau treasurer, said farmers are businessmen, "not wardens of private parks." Such disputes should be resolved case by case by county officials, he said, not by a sweeping legal change.

Another bill is part of the county's decade-long attempt to slow homebuilding around crowded schools.

District lines questioned

Christopher Carlyle, an Ellicott City resident, asked why the county school board drew district boundaries for school attendance that left Elkridge Landing Middle School crowded while nearby middle schools were underused.

"Perhaps there's been an error," Carlyle said.

"I understand your frustration," responded Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, explaining that the council might not make decisions based on the possibility of a future school board redistricting.

Howard County's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance halts planning for homes around schools that are projected to be 115 percent or more of capacity three years in the future. Parents have complained for years that school officials have undercounted children, allowing development to continue despite crowding.

The council is to vote Nov. 5 on a chart listing which school districts will be "open," and which "closed" to development in 2004, based on current projections. The impact of the law is delayed three years to give the county and developers time to fix the problems.

Other speakers praised a bill outlining the duties for a new hearing examiner, a position intended to cut the backlog of cases awaiting airing before the county's Board of Appeals. The bill calls for the new examiner to hear all cases, with only those appealed going before the full board.

Law supported

Former County Executive Edward Cochran said the committee he heads, which is examining Howard's zoning procedures, thinks the law is a good one and should help.

The county's League of Women Voters chapter also supports the bill, said its co-president, Betsy Grater, though the league and the Cochran committee proposed minor changes.

Board of Appeals members who met with the council last week questioned whether the new examiner should hear every case. Chairman Robert C. Sharps said the board's first thought was to have the hearing examiner listen only to undisputed cases, sending others directly to the board.

The council is scheduled to discuss the topic at a work session next week before the final vote.

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