Panel offers Howard development suggestions

Group helping to draft master plan says county needs stricter measures

April 09, 2002|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

A group helping to draft Ellicott City's master plan recommends that Howard County adopt more stringent development measures, including mandatory compatibility tests for future development, limiting commercial growth in the historic district and barring it along Route 99.

"We are a maturing county; we can't do things the way we did when we were in a rapid growth phase," said Grace Kubofcik, who co-chaired the Development and Infrastructure Action Committee.

The 16-member committee is one of four drafting Ellicott City's new master plan. The existing plan was written during the 1970s and no longer addresses community needs, committee members say.

The committees -- made up of volunteers and people appointed by County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, and County Executive James N. Robey -- have been meeting regularly since fall.

The three other committees addressed the historic district, U.S. 40 and quality-of-life issues. The four groups hope to blend their proposals into one master plan and present it to the County Council by December. The council will then review the proposal and could adopt, amend or reject it.

Among the development and infrastructure committee's major recommendations:

The county should adopt a review process for all commercial, mixed-use and residential projects to ensure they are compatible with their surroundings.

Commercial development should not be expanded into residential zones.

Developers or property owners with adjacent parcels of land that could be developed should be required to present a comprehensive development plan for county review.

Most development committee members hope there will be few changes to the draft before submitting it to the county. "It should add real value to what we have," Kubofcik said.

But others are not as happy with the plan because they say it could halt growth completely.

"I think it was their goal to stop development," said Jared Spahn, president of the Ellicott City Business Association, who serves on the historic district committee.

Spahn is concerned that some of the measures might be too far-reaching, particularly the compatibility review. Spahn said he understood why such a review would be necessary in the historic district, but "I don't see what you would gain elsewhere."

"There's a big difference between trying to preserve the character of a community that's hundreds of years old and trying to preserve a community that's 30 years old ... and I don't think they've seen that," Spahn said.

Some committee members expect others to have similar reactions when the master plan goes for public review after it is submitted to the County Council.

"I really hope that this discussion will continue," said Mike Smith, who co-chaired the development committee. "I'm sure you'll hear a lot of different voices."

Merdon said changes are likely. Because the committees are made up mostly of conservationist-minded citizens, Merdon hopes to solicit public comment on the draft from other groups, including developers.

"We need to reach more communities in the review process," he said.

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