Report details ideas for U.S. 1

More frequent bus service among suggestions made

`A very unifying voice'

Howard County

July 11, 2002|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Improvements along the U.S. 1 corridor in Howard County, including more frequent bus service and establishment of focused zones for future commercial and residential development, were proposed in a 50-page study released by county officials yesterday.

The report is based on two years of research and analysis by a group of volunteers aiming to improve the appearance and economic viability of the U.S. 1 area.

While county leaders must approve and fund the suggestions, the report is an important step in redeveloping the corridor, county officials said.

Many county officials think that poor planning and zoning are the main reasons for the current state of U.S. 1, a ramshackle collection of homes, gas stations and low-end retail stores that has been targeted for redevelopment.

"[The report] is a very unifying voice that should give the area the recognition and encouragement to redevelop," said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

The group, known as the Route 1 Corridor Task Force, has been working on the two-part study for nearly two years. During the first year, the nearly 50 volunteers focused on immediate changes that could be made to U.S. 1. In the second, the group focused on goals that would shape the road for the long term.

The task force wrote that rezoning is the county's most powerful tool to remake the corridor. In the report, the group suggested three new zoning districts.

One would concentrate on retail sales and service, a second would encourage employment, such as use of office space, and a third would try to place businesses near transit hubs such as the MARC station on the Howard-Prince George's County border in Laurel.

The task force suggested creating activity centers that would encourage stores, offices and homes to relocate within a short distance of each other to encourage pedestrian traffic.

The group also suggested the county adopt a more comprehensive transportation plan for the corridor, mainly through highly visible and frequently used bus routes along U.S. 1 that would connect nearby MARC rail stations -- linking Howard County to Baltimore and Washington.

But the group acknowledged changing the road would not be easy because many landowners along the route own small parcels, and it would be difficult to get all of them to agree to make changes.

It would also be a challenge to overcome the road's reputation, the group wrote. Many developers may view the highway as a high-risk investment and would only regard the area only as a haven for "gas stations... and other uses that are common for commercial strip developments," the group wrote.

To promote change, the county could offer financial incentives to prod owners to sell or encourage developers to buy, the group wrote, although the need for incentives would be expected to wane as the corridor redevelops.

Although county leaders also announced that they have received a $10,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Planning, Office of Smart Growth, to hire a consultant who will help develop regulations and designs for the plan, most said they might not have a part in implementing the recommendations.

The current County Council cannot take action on the recommendations because of the coming elections. "It's really a job for the next council," said Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat.

Committee members said they hoped the next council would make the road a priority.

"To me, that's going to represent the difference in moving forward in a defined manner [or]continuing to move forward in a very slow, market-driven fashion," said Steven H. Adler, co-chairman of the task force.

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