Project proposal concerns neighbors

Firm says it will consider changes to retail, housing slated for Route 100 farm


March 29, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The builder of a proposed mixed-use development on the Curtis farm, one of the largest remaining agricultural plots in eastern Howard County, is offering to compromise with angry neighbors by assuring them he'll consider modifications to the project.

Bozzuto Homes Inc. is pursuing plans for Shipley's Grant, a development of 300 townhouses, almost 100 condominiums, two office buildings and a 28,000-square-foot retail strip center on property, which comprises about 75 acres on the west side of Route 100 in Columbia.

Residents, many of whom said they had only recently heard about the project, have voiced objections to the shopping center, the type of housing and an exit from the project to Falls Run Road in the Villages of Montgomery Run community.

"I bought in my community not thinking it was going to look like Route 40 or Route 1," said Steve Black, a resident of Brothers Partnership Court across the street from the farm, at a community meeting last week. He said he first learned the property had been rezoned through the county's recent comprehensive rezoning process when signs were posted announcing that plans for a residential community were on file at the county planning department.

More than 40 residents attended the meeting, during which they suggested changes that might make the project more palatable, such as replacing the retail site with a community center. Charles L. Covell, president of Bozzuto, said that might be possible with further compromise from the Curtis family and the community.

"There's a tremendous amount of need to share a vision," Covell said.

What seemed to anger the most vocal opponents of the planned development was that they felt blindsided by the zoning changes.

On Feb. 2, the County Council voted in favor of a rezoning bill that detailed 126 changes across Howard, including about 48 acres of apartments, 8.3 acres of offices and about 4 acres for businesses at the Curtis farm. The bill was the result of more than a year of public hearings and discussion to determine the future of Howard's development.

Unlike "piecemeal" rezoning, regulations governing the comprehensive process do not require notification of adjoining property owners or signs to be posted if rezoning applications were submitted within a certain time frame. As a result, the residents, some of whom were veterans of other zoning battles, said they had no idea what was happening.

Black and residents of townhouses on Goldfinch Court and Montgomery Run's condominiums said they would have opposed the rezoning had they been aware of the application.

But the first steps in the process took place more than a decade ago. Although originally zoned for about two single-family homes per acre, in 1993 county officials placed a mixed-use overlay district on the farm. Like Fulton's Maple Lawn Farms and Emerson in southern Howard, the zone calls for the property to be designed as a traditional neighborhood, integrating offices, shops and housing.

County Council members, acting as the county zoning board, must approve mixed-use plans, which can be a lengthy public process. Maple Lawn Farms, for example, required more than 30 meetings before receiving the go-ahead.

But owners can also develop using the underlying zoning. County planning and zoning director Marsha McLaughlin said this method made sense here because construction of Route 100 and the interchange with Snowden River Parkway significantly reduced the size of the property. As a result, Bozzuto's plans can go forward, provided they pass technical review by county planners.

Covell said Bozzuto expects to break ground next year and complete the project in about six years.

East Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes, the councilman who represents the area, organized Thursday's meeting. When asked whether the zoning or the project could be stopped, he said: "There's virtually nothing we can do about that."

A 1994 charter amendment made comprehensive rezoning a legislative matter. Residents could therefore take the bill - and all 126 map changes - to referendum if they gather 5,000 signatures.

Farm owner Bob Curtis, who lives near Knoxville, Tenn., said Friday he was surprised by the neighbors' reaction.

"We have had a large part in ensuring the quality and design of the development," he said.

Family members went through a lengthy selection process to ensure a high-quality, compatible design was in place before signing a contract with Bozzuto, Curtis said. The condominiums, for example, will be in "manor houses" which will resemble mansions, Covell said.

The family will retain architectural-review rights over anything that is developed on the property, Curtis said.

His family has owned the property since the 1800s. He said it was part of one of the first land grants in what is now Howard County.

Curtis' mother, Lois, will continue to live in the farmhouse, which was preserved along with the farm buildings on about 7 acres of rural-conservation land. She also donated as a gift to her church a small chapel.

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