Board OKs site for homes

Planners approve building townhouses on commercial land

A change in land use

Sole dissenter says the proposal is `vague'

Columbia

March 18, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Howard County's Planning Board voted last night to allow townhouses to be constructed on about 7 acres of commercially zoned land across the street from Deep Run Elementary School in Columbia.

Representatives of the Howard Research and Development Corp., a Rouse Co. subsidiary, testified last night in favor of the land-use change.

The company's plans for 123 acres - of which the 7-acre plot is a piece - include more than 44,000 square feet of retail space and 316,800 square feet for commercial uses. The larger property is bordered by Routes 108 and 175.

A stream running through the eastern half of the property separates the 7 acres from the bulk of the land. Because of the unusual shape of the property, development company officials said that the area would be most suitable for homes. Either 100 apartments or 66 townhouses could be built there, they said.

Planning Board member H. Gregory Tornatore, who called the plans "vague," cast the sole dissenting vote last night. Apparently, developers were unable to convince him that townhouses were the best use for the sliver of land.

"Doesn't it make sense to leave it alone?" he asked during the nearly four-hour hearing. But board member Linda A. Dombrowski, who voted to approve the plan, said residential uses would be more compatible with the adjacent elementary school, mobile home park and regional park.

She said that residential uses would protect the neighborhood across the street "rather than allowing the whole bailiwick of what could be allowed" under commercial zoning. She said she preferred townhouses to apartments.

Albert Edwards, vice president of the development firm, interrupted the board's debate to reassure members. "We hear you loud and clear - if you prefer towns we will do towns," he said, referring to townhouses. In the end, the board voted, 3-1, in favor of townhouses. One board member was absent.

The property is in a mixed-use zoning district that is applicable only to Columbia. Land-use changes in the district must be approved by the Planning Board.

As part of the planning process, board members must approve a more detailed development plan before construction begins.

Several members of the community said they had questions about the plan.

Nina Basu, a Long Reach Village Board member, said her community was concerned about the possibility of a gas station being built on the land. She said sidewalks would be needed to connect the existing neighborhood to new housing.

Basu said the development firm should also plan for higher traffic volume because of an increase in population.

"Central to the concept of Columbia is the ability to travel on foot," Basu said, adding that there are 13 gas stations within a two-mile radius of the intersection of Lark Brown Road and Route 108.

The Planning Board voted unanimously to prohibit gas stations on the 123 acres.

Linda Pate, a member of the Mayfield community, said she was worried about traffic and the number of accidents that occur at intersections near the proposed development.

"We really need to think of how traffic will affect [Route] 108, Lark Brown and Waterloo [Road]," she said.

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