Owners apply for new zoning

Mixed-use class wanted for homes, shops, offices on farm, milk co-op

Hope for role in crafting future

Applicants say building may not begin for years

Howard County

December 26, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The owners of two large swaths of land in eastern Howard County have applied for rezoning that would set the stage for future development.

Applications have been submitted that would allow shops, offices and homes on about 75 acres of the Curtis farm next to Route 100 in Ellicott City and about 200 acres in North Laurel owned by the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.

But owners of both properties say that development would occur years from now, if at all.

Bob Curtis, 57, whose family has owned the farm since the late 1800s, said he'd rather plan a future for the property now.

"We want to have a role in the crafting," he said. "You can't very well do it after you're dead."

Members of the Howard County Council are considering the two petitions among other requests as part of the comprehensive rezoning process, conducted every 10 years.

The council members could vote as soon as Feb. 2 on a comprehensive rezoning bill, which details changes to more than 3,000 acres in the county. Proposed amendments to the current bill must be submitted to the council by Wednesday.

Members will hear testimony on the amendments at a public hearing Jan. 20. Three work sessions, which are open to the public, have been scheduled for Jan. 22, 27 and 29.

During the last comprehensive rezoning, in 1993, council members placed an MXD, or mixed-use, overlay district on the Curtis farm. The district encourages coordinated development of "neo-traditional" communities because it is more flexible in the amount of buffering setback that is required to separate uses, said Steven M. Johns, a county planner involved in the rezoning effort.

In mixed-use districts, "uses are more integrated," he said. "People can walk from their house to work or from their house to the corner store."

Plans must be approved by the zoning board, which "can cause a project to take a lot longer and is really open for high levels of public scrutiny," Johns said.

The Maple Lawn Farms development in Fulton, for example, required more than 30 meetings before it received the go-ahead. Those opposed to the plan said that the area could not sustain the growth.

Property owners of MXD land can also develop their land by following the criteria of the underlying zoning. The Curtis family's request for its farm would change from allowing about two homes per acre to about 48 acres of apartments, 8.3 acres of offices and about 4 acres of commercial land.

Whereas changes to MXD development are hashed out through a public process, "once they've drawn those new underlying zones, it's very difficult" to change them, Johns said. To alter zoning outside the comprehensive process, property owners must demonstrate the neighborhood has changed or the current zoning is a mistake.

Curtis, who lives near Knoxville, Tenn., said his family is working with developers, but that the land has not been sold and it could be years before development.

Construction of Route 100 reduced the property's size, he said. About 8 acres on the east side of the highway next to Hunt Club Estates are not included in the rezoning request.

His mother, 94-year-old Lois Curtis, lives in the farmhouse, which is on Howard's list of historic structures, along with the farm buildings, he said. "From the family's perspective, there wasn't any use in continuing to wait on things," he said.

The buildings and about 7 acres will be preserved in a rural-conservation district as the council bill is written. A cemetery that dates to the 1600s will also remain, Curtis said.

The Curtis property and adjacent land, site of the former University of Maryland Horse Research Center, were part of one of the oldest land patents granted in what is now Howard County, he said.

The family has leased the farm since World War II, Curtis said, but it would be difficult to continue. "Things just aren't congruent to continuing those types of operations in that urbanizing environment," he said.

In North Laurel, the milk-producers cooperative has owned the milk powder and butter plant since 1955, said Stephanie Meyers, spokeswoman for the cooperative, which is based in Reston, Va. About 25 million to 110 million pounds of milk from Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland are processed on its property each month, according to the cooperative's Web site.

The council bill would place a mixed-use overlay district on the approximately 200-acre parcel. In addition, it changes the mix of industrial, residential and employment center zoning to include about 25 acres for two commercial zones and more than 100 acres of clustered single-family homes.

Following recommendations from the county Department of Planning and Zoning, land on the west side would be zoned for clusters of single-family homes, similar to subdivisions across Leishear Road. On the east side, the new employment center zoning matches what's planned for the adjacent areas of the mixed-use development of Emerson.

About 36 acres where the plant is situated would remain zoned for industrial uses, Johns said.

The cooperative is re-examining the land as part of the decennial rezoning process, but has no intention to develop the property at this time, said attorney Ty Lawson.

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