Hearing draws opponents of rezoning plans

Residents voice concerns over proposed changes to land applications

Process scheduled every 10 years

Golf course community, mobile home park among 3,000 acres involved

Howard County

December 16, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Howard County residents expressed concern at a public hearing last night about proposed zoning changes that they say could influence where they eat their snowballs and how they live out their retirement years

During the comprehensive rezoning process, which takes place every 10 years, the county reconsiders land use, establishing the future of development from Elkridge to Lisbon.

Most of the 3,000 acres up for rezoning are concentrated in Howard's eastern half, particularly 1,740 acres in the U.S. 1 corridor. Yesterday was the final deadline for property owners to submit applications to rezone land.

A few that got in under the wire include about 15 acres at Routes 144 and 32 for senior housing, offices or restaurants; about 15 acres on U.S. 1 near the Maryland Wholesale Food Center for offices, apartments and retail space; and two additional parcels along Montgomery Road across from the Long Gate Shopping Center in Ellicott City, for various purposes.

Council members will not vote on the bill at their Jan. 5 legislative session because amendments are expected. In addition, a work session originally scheduled for Dec. 23 has been canceled. Work sessions will be held next month.

Before the public hearing, which was prior to the council meeting, several residents of the Aladdin Village mobile home park in Elkridge held signs protesting an application to rezone the land to allow offices, retail space and apartments.

"Why do you have to uproot my family?" said Tiffany Davis, who moved to the park from Beltsville three years ago to save money on rent. She said she has four children and her husband needs a heart transplant. "This was the best community and the best choice for us. We can't afford to go to an apartment."

A large group of people also came to the hearing to oppose a proposal to increase the density at Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center, a planned golf course community on the western edge of Ellicott City.

Twenty years ago "we believed that the county administrators displayed tremendous planning foresight in attempting to guide the development of an upscale multiuse community for western Howard County," said Marc Norman, a resident of the Vistas at Turf Valley.

About 10 percent of the 1,400 units have been constructed since the plan was approved in the 1980s, and residents believe that if Turf Valley were built out it would overwhelm already crowded roads and schools.

A number of people testified about proposed changes to the zoning code that would require off-street parking and other restrictions for snowball stands in residential neighborhoods.

Jim Donahue, who lives on Cardinal Forest Circle in Scaggsville, was concerned about the safety of patrons at the snowball stand near his house. He submitted a photograph of young children in the street.

"People are lingering at that stand," Donahue said. "And as you can see in this picture, lingering in the street."

Jeff Taylor said he opposed the amendment, stating, "When we moved into the neighborhood, the snowball stand was one of the bright spots in the neighborhood."

People concerned about one of the most contentious issues in this rezoning process -- the acreage across from Long Gate -- said they support proposed zoning districts that would allow for new senior housing and institutions such as the YMCA to stay where it is.

Officials with the YMCA said that they want to sell a portion of their land and use the proceeds to renovate their building.

"The [Howard County] YMCA has the most members per square foot" than any other YMCA in central Maryland, said Chris Young, chairman of the group's board of directors.

Representatives from the Meadowridge Landing homeowners association in Elkridge opposed proposed changes that would allow banks, restaurants and office buildings to be built on a former federal Superfund site across the street from their development on Route 103.

"It's like a horseshoe of residential [land] around that property," said Brandi Felser, president of the homeowners group. She said that neighbors have tried to negotiate with the developers of the Superfund site, but they have not responded in a timely manner.

Some residents, such as Ellen Rhudy, recognized that the decisions to be made are not easy ones.

"I would not want to be in your shoes for all the wine on Route 108," she said, referring to a contentious debate over rezoning for an upscale wine bar on the northern edge of Columbia.

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