Some of Howard's councilmen see great commercial potential along Route 100, the commuter connector between Ellicott City and Interstate 95, envisioning a thoroughfare lined with corporate headquarters, their logos visible from the roadway.
At recent work sessions for the county's decennial comprehensive rezoning process, Councilman Christopher J. Merdon suggested they consider commercial zoning for land adjacent to parcels near the Route 103 interchange, an area proposed for commercial zoning.
With Route 100 connecting drivers to I-95 and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, "You can't get a better transportation network to support it," said Merdon, a Republican who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge.
"I'm envious of Montgomery County and what they have on the [Interstate] 270 corridor," he said after a work session this month.
But the plan faces possible opposition from residents who testified against the commercial zoning classifications for the first parcels and don't support it for additional land, either.
Last week, staff in the county's Department of Planning and Zoning identified eight undeveloped properties totaling more than 74 acres on either side of Route 100 between Route 103 and Snowden River Parkway. They are zoned for clusters of single-family homes.
It is unclear who owns roughly four of those parcels, totaling about 40 acres, said Steven Johns, a county planner involved in the rezoning effort. The others are owned by Howard's Department of Public Works or the State Highway Administration, and appear to be left over from purchases made for the Route 100 right of way, Johns said.
An 8.7-acre parcel owned by the State Highway Administration on the south side of Route 100 bordered by Bellows Spring Elementary School and the southern Braun property could be a good candidate for rezoning, Johns said. The other parcels have residential neighbors who would have to be notified about a possible change, which can take time. And Deep Run stream cuts across several of the properties so they might be unsuitable for building, he said.
The owners of the Braun farm on the western corners of the interchange of Routes 100 and 103 have applied for planned office research zoning, which would allow office buildings, restaurants, banks and senior housing on its 13- and 27-acre parcels. Plans for the Curtis farm show a combination of apartments, single-family houses, retail and 144,000 square feet of office space, Johns said. Farm buildings on the site would be preserved.
The east side of Route 103 could remain more residential. The owner of the southeast corner, Ahsan S. Khan, requested apartment zoning for his property. And on the northeast corner, construction is well under way for a senior housing community of 93 apartments and 28 townhouses on about 16 acres. One parcel is for an office building.
Western Howard Councilman Allan H. Kittleman agreed with Merdon. "We need commercial tax base here," he said. "We need to have vision now for what that thoroughfare can do for Howard County."
Other councilmen were more cautious. East Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes said he supports additional development "as long as we're responsible."
"That area is really taking off down there," he said.
Other council members also urged caution.
"We want to try to honor the concerns of the citizens in these areas," said southern Howard Councilman Guy Guzzone.
"I just want to be careful not to overwhelm the residents who live nearby," said Ken Ulman, who represents west Columbia. "I don't want the highway to become an excuse for more intense development."
Merdon said businesses are looking for places convenient for employees and products to travel. He also considered Interstate 70 as another possible commercial corridor, but aside from its juncture with Route 32, much of its surrounding land is in agricultural easements.
"We have a limited amount of commercial land available," he said. "We have to put it where we have infrastructure."
Among residential developments between U.S. 29 and I-95, a number of offices and other businesses have cropped up on Snowden River Parkway and Centre Park Drive, as well as restaurants, hotels and other services to support them. Merritt Properties is preleasing an additional 95,800 square feet of office space it is building on its 26-acre Columbia Corporate Park 100, said Tamra Edwards, Merritt's marketing director.
Merdon said that's what he likes to see. "I love that. I love the Merritt building," he said.
But Howard Weinstein, president of the Pembrooke Homeowners Association, disagreed.
"The whole idea that there has to be a corridor, where every piece of land that can be seen from Route 100 is commercial, strikes me as a limited way to look at it," he said.
Comprehensive rezoning will create several office zones on U.S. 1, Weinstein added.
`Seems like it's overkill'