Co-op joins list seeking rezoning

Milk producers envision N. Laurel parcel as retail

`It's just an opportunity'

Public sewer sought for Marriottsville tract

April 18, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

A milk producers' cooperative sitting on more than 200 acres in southern Howard County -- a valuable piece of land next to the large, mixed-use development of Emerson -- is sticking a toe in the waters of change.

It is asking the county to rezone roughly 23 acres on Leishear Road to B-1, a retail district. The land is now zoned for industrial use.

In drips and drabs, more landowners are trying to get in before the gate closes on Howard County's once-a-decade comprehensive rezoning.

Planners want to see all applications by May 12, though it appears it might be possible to wiggle in for consideration later. The County Council begins taking testimony in the fall.

A rush of requests came in by January, in time to be reviewed for county planners' first raft of recommended rezonings -- a list of properties encompassing more than 2,300 acres. Since then, people have applied for rezoning on nearly 200 acres across the county.

The Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, based in Reston, Va., operates a manufacturing plant on its North Laurel land, cradled between Leishear Road and Route 216.

The cooperative does not have specific plans for the 23 acres it wants rezoned, said communications director Stephanie Meyers.

Officials are in the middle of a feasibility study on the plant -- which produces condensed milk, dry milk powder and butter -- and decided to apply for comprehensive rezoning.

"It's just an opportunity to relook at the property," Meyers said.

The long-term fate of the North Laurel operation is uncertain. It is possible the cooperative might move out, Meyers acknowledged.

"But at the moment, we're staying there, and no decision has been made to move," she said.

Another recent request came from the Brantly Development Group, which is applying for a rezoning in the hope that it would bring public sewer service to a 73-acre property in Marriottsville.

The unseen demarcation of Howard County is the "planned service area" line -- public water and sewer in the developed east, private wells and septic systems in the rural west -- and growth-control activists have fought any attempt to change the boundaries. Brantly's property is in the bubble of Marriottsville that has private septic but public water, which was extended after concerns about possible contamination from the nearby county landfill.

Brantly has tried -- and failed -- to persuade county officials to extend the sewer lines to the property, at the northeast corner of Route 144 and Marriottsville Road. The firm then won permission for an "active adult" complex with roughly 145 houses and townhouses served by a single, very large septic system.

"It makes a lot more sense to have public sewer," said Hugh F. Cole Jr., chairman of Brantly's board. "It would be much, much easier. ... It would be much more efficient."

But James M. Irvin, the county's public works director, said officials have repeatedly said they are not bringing sewer lines into the water-only bubble. The county's General Plan for growth would have to be amended.

"They're not getting sewer," Irvin said. "It's not going to happen."

The County Council expects to complete the comprehensive zoning map at the end of the year. Steven M. Johns, a county planner involved in the rezoning effort, urged property owners not to dawdle if they have plans for their land. The longer they wait to apply, the harder it could be for them to work through objections from the community.

"Some of the more complicated cases really need some time to sort things out," Johns said. "It's relatively difficult to make those compromises quickly and under pressure."

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