Critical deadline for Howard rezoning

Council must submit changes to bill today

December 31, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Some Howard County residents might be picking their resolutions today for next year, but their councilmen are considering changes that will affect the county for the next decade - and are legally binding.

Members of the County Council will submit amendments to the comprehensive rezoning bill by today's 2 p.m. filing deadline.

The council will hear testimony on amendments to the bill, which details zoning changes to more than 3,000 acres, at a public hearing Jan. 20. If no new amendments are introduced, members could vote on the bill at their legislative session Feb. 2.

It is all part of the rezoning process, undertaken every 10 years to rethink the future of development within rapidly growing Howard County.

Today's deadline is critical. By law, the public must have an opportunity to comment on proposed changes. If amendments are filed later for items that have not been discussed at earlier hearings, there won't be enough time to send notification letters to adjacent property owners before the next hearings, said Sheila M. Tolliver, the council administrator.

Some proposed changes required compromises with property owners, county residents and among council members.

"I don't want to see any one proposal hold up the final passage for another month," said council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat.

As a result, "I may introduce some amendments as the chair - not things that I necessarily am pushing for, but things to allow the vote to move forward in a timely manner," he said.

He is submitting a change that would create an institutional overlay zone for the YMCA in Ellicott City, which can continue to operate under the proposed residential zoning but cannot pursue its planned expansion. However, in case the council votes in favor of a different zone for that property, Guzzone has submitted an amendment as chairman to switch it and adjacent properties to "residential-senior institutional" that permits senior housing and offices.

Other councilmen said they also submitted amendments specifically to allow flexibility in further talks.

"Several of my amendments are almost contradictory," said western Howard Republican Allan H. Kittleman. He described two he planned to submit for the same parcel - a former car dealership at Route 108 and Ten Oaks Road.

Kittleman suggested a designation of "planned office research," which would allow senior housing, offices, banks and restaurants, and "community center transition district," which would allow senior housing, religious facilities and some commercial uses.

West Columbia Democrat Ken Ulman said he also plans to file an amendment for less-intense business zoning for that parcel, to prohibit a gas station or car dealership.

Ultimately, not every amendment will be introduced. But they will allow the councilmen to consider options during work sessions at the end of the month, Kittleman said.

He did not want to "tie the council's hands when we get to vote in February or get to the work sessions," he said. "If there aren't any amendments with options, we might as well not meet."

Some communities are negotiating with property owners and developers. "If we don't put in an amendment, they don't have any leverage," Kittleman said.

Kittleman also plans to submit an amendment to consider two parcels at Route 144 and U.S. 40 as part of the Route 40 Enhancement Study. The bill now calls for townhouse zoning for several parcels.

"I don't know if that's right for the whole area," Kittleman said.

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