Rezoning for townhouses sought

Planning Board recommends against proposed change

January 11, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Common zoning wisdom is that industrial land is worth a lot more than residential, but a company with 11 industrial acres at Howard County's far eastern edge is asking for the right to build homes on the land instead.

Blue Run I Enterprises LLC's property, on the south side of Hanover Road just outside Elkridge, is zoned for heavy manufacturing. An attorney for the company - saying the hilly topography and a pipeline easement would sharply reduce the amount of possible industrial development - wants the county to rezone the tract to permit townhouses.

The Zoning Board will make that decision at an as-of-yet unscheduled meeting, but yesterday the county Planning Board weighed in with a recommendation: Stick with what you've got.

"This is an industrial area," said Joan Lancos, the board's chairwoman. "I have a couple of problems with your property: The biggest is the thought of a townhouse development in an isolated pocket. While they may be near the rail station, they're not near schools, they're not near shopping."

The 11 acres are tucked up against a portion of the sprawling Patapsco Valley State Park, near industrial parks and homes. Blue Run believes that the property is suitable for residences now because the land was taken out of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport's noise zone in the 1990s.

Blue Run's attorney, Richard Talkin, said the company is hoping to build 70 to 75 townhouses on the site, about 10 percent of which would be for moderate-income buyers.

"This is a good opportunity to see if we're really serious about revitalizing the Route 1 corridor," Talkin said. "We don't want to create more marginal development."

Typically, 11 acres would provide 160,000 square feet of industrial space, he said. But the Hanover Road parcel could accommodate only about 42,000 square feet because of the land constraints, Talkin said. He contends that the land is much better for homes.

"It's isolated, in its own cocoon, in a very beautiful way," Talkin said. "Really, it's surrounded by parkland or open space."

County planners were not swayed. Landowners must prove either a mistake in the zoning or a change in the neighborhood for the Zoning Board to consider a zoning adjustment, and Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. said his staff found neither.

"Everything around it is zoned industrial," Rutter said, noting that Blue Run's parcel has been classified as industrial since 1954. "Even though it's outside the airport noise zone, it's not out by much. ... I am concerned about housing in that area."

His staff's written recommendation - for denial - notes that the neighborhood has become more industrial in recent years. Approved rezonings in the past decade have switched residential land in the area to industrial, not the other way around.

Talkin argued that this change is in his company's favor. Rezoning Blue Run's parcel would bring lost possibilities for residential use back to the neighborhood, he said.

Rutter said it is unusual to ask for the sort of zoning flip Blue Run wants - the other direction is more common, for financial reasons.

Industrial land can sell for far more per square foot than residential land, agreed Rocky Mackintosh, who owns a land consulting and brokerage company near Frederick. But he said he can see why property owners might want to skip industrial and try homes, even without parcel irregularities.

"The residential market, which is very, very strong right now, probably would be a quicker sale," said Mackintosh, president of MacRo Ltd., which does business in Howard County. "Time is money."

In Howard, residential development is usually a safe bet. Home prices are steadily climbing. Some single-family houses in scenic parts of Elkridge are priced in the $600,000s - although they're probably catering to a different market than would townhouses near industrial parks.

Lancos said she is excited about the idea of revitalizing the beleaguered U.S. 1 corridor by rezoning, but neither she nor the rest of the board were excited by this project. "I really don't believe this is the place to start," she said.

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