Rezoning could put new face on county

Development: Planners are to release their recommendations tomorrow on requests for 2,100 acres, which could mean major changes for some neighborhoods and affect thousands of people.

February 09, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

If Howard County leaders rezone this year all of the land that property owners hope they will, the possible uses of more than 2,100 acres -- an area larger than Columbia's River Hill, scattered everywhere as if by the winds -- will change.

If approved, the proposed changes could bring fresh waves of development to some neighborhoods, alter the character of others and directly or indirectly affect the lives of thousands of county residents.

Planners sifted through nearly 100 requests, most of them from landowners and developers but some from a county task force looking to improve the aging U.S. 1 corridor. They expect to release their recommendations tomorrow, starting the important once-a-decade exercise in comprehensive rezoning.

With the frontiers of construction on undeveloped land fast disappearing, the many requests offer a glimpse into the future as Howard turns toward defining itself through redeveloping older neighborhoods.

Some homes and businesses are being torn down to make way for construction, and if the rezoning proposals are any measure, much more of the same is on the way.

People are re-envisioning uses for developed land from Glenwood to Elkridge and from Ellicott City to Fulton -- and even in Columbia, the most carefully planned place in the state. Some want to chuck homes for businesses, some want to build apartments instead of detached homes, and some envision all three in the same place.

"Development doesn't end, of course; it just takes a different form," said Rob Moxley, vice president of Security Development LLC in Ellicott City, which hopes to win apartment zoning on most of an Elkridge parcel zoned for businesses and would also like to replace a house in Ellicott City with offices or seniors-only homes.

Howard's Planning Board will listen to the public's thoughts about comprehensive rezoning March 10, and the County Council expects to vote on changes by the end of the year. People can ask for rezonings any time, but this is their fleeting chance to avoid the tougher requirements of piecemeal petitions.

Though most of the requests for comprehensive rezoning are relatively small, some large pieces of land are clumped in a handful of proposals for U.S. 1, part of a county task force's vision for more businesses, apartments and townhouses in the corridor.

Much of the corridor is developed, but not as densely as the task force thinks it should be to increase the county's tax base and its share of affordable homes.

If the council agrees, most of the land fronting U.S. 1 in Howard would change from a hodgepodge of zoning categories to a new category conceived by the task force to encourage business parks instead of small strip malls and junkyards.

The group suggested that the new corridor employment zoning be used for 488 acres in North Laurel, 161 acres in Jessup and two swaths in Elkridge totaling 340 acres. All consist of small parcels owned by multiple people.

U.S. 1 task force members also recommended rezoning nearly 300 acres around the four MARC stations at the Anne Arundel County line for transit oriented development, mixing offices and retail with housing complexes of up to 20 units an acre.

Goal: affordable housing

Leonard S. Vaughan, the county's housing director, sees U.S. 1 as a key place for homes that are in the price range of recent college graduates, middle managers and teachers. He has watched in frustration as the average cost of houses and townhouses in Howard has soared to more than $300,000.

"We're going to have to accommodate affordable housing," he said. "We're not talking housing for, quote, people who don't want to work. ... We're talking about a substantial portion of our population."

Outside the U.S. 1 area, many of the rezoning proposals ask that land be switched from residential to commercial.

More than a dozen of those parcels are in western Howard, where commercial acreage is scarce. The largest request is for 24 acres in West Friendship, between Route 32 and the Howard County Fairgrounds.

Some of the petitions will look familiar to neighbors.

Ellicott City developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. is again trying to win commercial zoning for about 3 acres in Marriottsville. The Zoning Board said no last year.

Baltimore developer Peter Bosworth has also regrouped. Residents howled last year when he asked that 25 acres at Route 103 and Interstate 95 be rezoned from residential to industrial. He said the land was inappropriate for homes because it was contaminated by illegal dumping. He is hoping to win planned office research zoning for 66 acres in the same area of Elkridge.

Other requests dot Route 108 from one end to the other. On the Ellicott City side, Deep Run Property Management hopes for a mix of commercial and residential zoning on 85 acres. In Highland, a developer seeking permission to build a funeral home on land zoned partly residential and partly commercial is asking to switch it all to commercial.

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