Rezoning effects to unfold over time

Plans for development of 2,660 acres involved to take years to complete

County

February 08, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Now that the comprehensive rezoning bill has been approved, don't expect Howard County's landscape to change overnight.

Every 10 years, the county implements the goals of its General Plan through comprehensive rezoning, an opportunity to reshape development from Elkridge to Lisbon. Of 189 requests for changes in zoning received during the yearlong process, 126 changes were made, representing 2,660 acres.

However, because it can take years to develop a site because of limited allocations of housing units available each year, it may be a little while before any construction begins.

"As much as people would like to come rushing in the door, they're going to be held by the pace of allocations," said Marsha McLaughlin, the county planning director.

McLaughlin said that the planning staff will not schedule appointments with developers for meetings about new development until County Executive James N. Robey signs the bill, expected this week.

However, on Thursday, developers of the Curtis property along Route 100 held the first presubmission community meeting - designed to give neighbors a chance to learn about plans before they are submitted for approval - based on the recently approved zoning.

Greenbelt-based Bozzuto Homes Inc. proposes to build about 300 townhouses and nearly 100 condominiums on the Curtis property. In addition, the approximately 75-acre, mixed-use development will also have two office buildings totaling 144,000 square feet and about 30,000 square feet of retail space, said Clark Wagner, director of entitlement and development services for Bozzuto.

"We'll have a mix of uses that really creates a strong sense of place and works better from the standpoint of reducing dependence on automobiles and [will] reduce traffic for the region," Wagner said.

McLaughlin noted that much of the change during this process took place along U.S. 1, where large swaths were rezoned to promote economic development through industry and urban mixed uses. Four of the eight new zoning districts created address those goals, and last year the County Council approved additional allocations as an incentive to jump-start revitalization of the corridor.

Ellicott City-Elkridge Republican Christopher J. Merdon said that more could have been done to shore up the county's commercial tax base through comprehensive rezoning.

"I do think we missed some opportunities for balancing residential and commercial," he said, particularly along Route 100.

The council put off consideration of property on the southwestern corner at Routes 100 and 103 until "comp light," an additional rezoning process that will begin in the fall. Some residents opposed commercial zoning that they believed would overwhelm the intersection.

"With extra time to gather facts, there's a better chance of reaching a conclusion that's fair to everyone, said Howard Weinstein, president of the Pembrooke Homeowners Association in Elkridge.

The four other new zones provide transitions between existing residential and commercial districts, such as along Montgomery Road in Ellicott City, McLaughlin said.

With little undeveloped land remaining in the eastern half of the county, such zones are expected to become more common.

"As we move toward build-out, the pieces we're looking at are infill - sometimes within, others on edges," McLaughlin said.

Although they did not amount to a huge amount of acreage, she said that those infill pieces became a focus of the comprehensive cycle. Particularly important, she said, were interchanges such as those along Route 100 that didn't exist during previous rezonings.

"Retail service areas are important but need to be transitioned," she said. "The zoning districts available didn't offer that range."

Seven districts - some of the new districts as well as apartment and townhouse zones - now have moderate-income housing requirements. McLaughlin said she was pleased by that outcome.

"We really struggled" to increase the amount of moderate-income housing units, she said.

Andre De Verneil of Howard's Interfaith Coalition for Affordable Housing said that moderate-income housing serves an essential component of the county work force.

"We ultimately are creating a problem for ourselves if we segregate ourselves" along economic lines, he said.

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