The two-page document that landed at the Howard County Council office Thursday may not look like much, but it is the blueprint that will guide county development for the next decade.
More than 50 maps accompany the document, a bill that details the county Department of Planning and Zoning's recommendations for comprehensive rezoning. The process, conducted every 10 years, has guided the county's evolution over the years from a farming community to a vibrant destination in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
"It's kind of a jigsaw puzzle," said Marsha McLaughlin, the county planning director. "At this point in time, we have a pretty good idea of what the puzzle looks like."
County planners, who have been preparing the legislation for the past year, have researched 173 rezoning requests - more than 3,000 acres - as well as changes to the text of the zoning code.
A draft of the requests first went before the county Planning Board earlier this year. During the past three months, the County Council evaluated the suggestions during four public hearings and five work sessions, many of which stretched late into the night.
Using their input, county planners compiled and prefiled the legislation Thursday - some of which is different from what the council members recommended.
"We conducted straw votes to give [the planners] guidance," said east Columbia Councilman Ken Ulman. "They weren't bound by any of those. There's still a lot to be played out."
Council Chairman Guy Guzzone agreed. "As far as the council is concerned, there are still a number of negotiations going on, and they'll be going on until the last minute," he said.
Take, for example, the Iron Bridge Wine Company property on Route 108 across from the Clark farm. The majority of the council - Allan H. Kittleman, David A. Rakes and Christopher J. Merdon - voted for planned office research (POR) for the property. The POR category allows restaurants, banks, offices and senior housing. Guzzone and Ulman, who represents the area, voted against it.
Residents who oppose plans to expand the cafe believe that the council vote undermined their negotiations with developer Donald R. Reuwer to retain residential zoning for the wine bar. It remains residential in the bill.
The council will introduce the bill at its legislative meeting next month. A public hearing will be held Dec. 15, with a vote on the plan possibly in January.
Merdon, who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge, said he will consider the bigger picture during the next round of hearings.
"We've looked at each property ... to determine what would be good for that individual property," he said. "Now we have our first draft. We need to take a look at global impacts."
Most of the changes are concentrated in Howard's east, particularly along U.S. 1, where the proposed rezoning of 1,740 acres, it is hoped, will jump-start revitalization plans for the corridor. Of seven proposed zoning districts, three are destined to create hubs of employment, transportation and community along U.S. 1. After concerns that the proposed employment zone might be too restrictive for existing businesses, an overlay zone, continuing light industrial, has also been proposed to allow them to continue operating.
A lot of the testimony at council hearings concerned proposals for about 39 acres on Montgomery Road, across from Long Gate Shopping Center. Several property owners along that strip, who would like to sell, requested retail zoning because the noise, odors and traffic make it a difficult place to live. Neighbors living near the shopping center, however, want to stop the spread of commercial districts.
The legislation included a mix of three residential zones for the area, including townhouses along Montgomery Road, clustered single-family homes in the back and a new zone - "residential senior institutional" - for nearly 15 acres. This last zone would allow senior housing, churches and other community centers, but not banks, offices and other potential uses that concerned nearby residents.
Cathy Higgins of Montgomery Road Citizens for Responsible Growth added that she appreciated the efforts of the County Council. "We've been saying senior housing since 1998 - a school and senior housing," she said. "It looks like we're going to get the school and senior housing. That would be a really good thing."
The council also voted to rezone some land on U.S. 40 despite the expectation of additional research on enhancing the commercial strip by next fall - a decision that made it into the legislation.
During its meetings, the Planning Board did not consider almost 20 applications along U.S. 40 because the Department of Planning and Zoning intended to conduct a study of the area. Although work on the Route 40 Enhancement Study has begun, the councilmen recommended townhouse zoning for several parcels on the western end of U.S. 40, where it meets Frederick Road, based on what several described as an innovative proposal for homes with attached offices.
"We could actually see what was going to be developed there," Merdon said. "The Route 40 study had to do more with the commercial area of 40. These properties don't have the issues that the rest of Route 40 has."
But some property owners don't think the area is appropriate for homes.
"I don't quite understand it," said Jack Kaulfuss of West Friendship. He, like other owners, was told it would be nine months before a decision would be made on his request for commercial zoning to build a convenience store on his 2.4-acre property.
"What we were told and what happened is quite different," Kaulfuss said.
But it is a continuing process, said Guzzone, the council chairman. "In no way is this over," he said.
"We're trying to do our best to find a point where everyone can come out of the process feeling not only like they have been heard," Guzzone added, but that they've had the opportunity to help decide what's best for the community.