Group fears for master plan fate

County says no funding is available for consultant to complete the study

Ellicott City

July 24, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After a year of work by more than 50 people on a new Ellicott City Master Plan, members of the group fear that the effort might fade away unless money for professional help to finish the study can be found.

Howard County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican and organizer of the group, said about $20,000 is needed to hire a consultant to complete a plan that the County Council could adopt before a comprehensive rezoning of the county begins next year. Howard doesn't have the cash to spare.

"The last master plan [for Ellicott City] we developed was in the 1970s," Merdon said. "We can do rezoning without a master plan, but it's not preferable."

The county's revenue problems have prevented its help, although County Executive James N. Robey said he would consider the request again this winter if the fiscal picture improves.

But committee member Janet Kusterer, president of Historic Ellicott City Inc., is worried that "if you lose momentum, you lose a lot."

Although she understands the county's money problems, "We put a year of work into that - weekly meetings for a year. That was a lot for volunteers to do."

Kusterer said she believes the master plan is "75 percent of the way there." The panel had hoped to hold town meetings to get more participation.

Still, Joseph W. Rutter Jr., county planning director, said the group's ideas will not be lost even if a plan is not finished before rezoning begins.

"It's not necessarily a problem," Rutter said, because the committee is mainly focused on changes that would not involve rezoning. If land-use changes were recommended later, after comprehensive rezoning, that could be done, too, he said.

Rutter said he also wants to see a broader study than what the panel of volunteers has done - one that includes business interests that the new plan might regulate.

He said consultants might be useful in helping with specific parts of a new plan - "specific concept plans" - but that county planners "have the expertise to refine and write zoning regulations and the plan."

With Howard concentrating on pushing the U.S. 1 revitalization plan and money not available, the county cannot do much with the Ellicott City effort now, Rutter said.

"This is not a time to be starting new initiatives," he said.

At the same time, he does not want to delay countywide rezoning. "We heard what Chris' committee was saying," Rutter said. "Some things we can incorporate right away."

A 45-page draft of the plan produced in February called for better development controls, reducing visual clutter along U.S. 40, protecting Main Street properties from flood damage and encouraging more social services. Other ideas included doing more for senior citizens, encouraging more child care centers in the county and increasing parking in the historic district - perhaps with a garage.

"We just want it to be a finished product that people can understand," Kusterer said. "We're not looking to make something glamorous. We're just trying to make it readable."

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