The developer of Maple Lawn Farms, an already large housing and commercial project in southern Howard County that won approval four years ago after a long battle, is seeking to expand the project by about 50 percent.
The density of homes at Maple Lawn - the last big development in Howard's fast-growth cycle, which will rise on a former turkey farm - was a highly contentious issue in 2000, when the Zoning Board approved the current plan after 32 long, often late-night hearings.
The proposed changes, which include about 500 additional homes and 685,000 square feet of commercial development, could revive the philosophical dispute over land use that raged during the zoning hearings - whether a concentration of homes, stores and offices helps or hurts congestion in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
If approved, the changes would boost the overall density of the 602-acre tract from an average 2.3 to 2.7 homes an acre.
Developer Stuart J. Greenebaum hopes to build several hundred homes for active seniors on the most rural part of the tract, where the turkey farm now sits, and add several hundred more - as well as an added segment of commercial space - on land he recently bought east of the county school complex.
No specific plans have been submitted to county officials, though Greenebaum held a required community meeting for about 60 area residents July 22 at Fulton Elementary School. Greenebaum argues that current zoning allows up to three homes an acre, and his project - like the Rouse Co.'s Emerson mixed-use development nearby - exemplifies Smart Growth because it uses public water and sewer and is near the U.S. 29 corridor, along Route 216 in Fulton.
"The real answer [to sprawl] is not paving more concrete roads. The real answer is to provide good housing in a variety of price ranges in places closer to where you work," Greenebaum said.
But opponents argued during the Zoning Board hearings in 2000 that it is never Smart Growth to transform a turkey farm into concentrated development.
Longtime Maple Lawn critic Peter Oswald, who attended Greenebaum's meeting, said he was angered by the developer's plans to intensify building now on the western end of the property closest to existing rural housing where the Iager turkey farm is.
"To propose this [senior housing] at this point in time - to me it's greed under the veil of Smart Growth," Oswald said.
"We went through all this," he said about the battles of four years ago. Increasing density now is "outrageous," he said, arguing that the added density only makes the development more incompatible with earlier, more-rural communities nearby.
Others aren't so sure.
"There is a part of me that knew he was going to come back and ask for higher density. But there's another part that says, `Wait, listen to what he has to say,' " said John Taylor, another longtime slow-growth activist.
More space for seniors
The additions come from several sources - 224 more townhouses on a 94-acre tract purchased along Route 216 east of the county's three-school complex; 50 more units of senior housing suggested by the county; and a proposal to add 242 "villas" for active seniors west of the schools, where only 32 large-lot estates were planned before.
The additional commercial space would go on the new tract, near the planned "employment center" nearest U.S. 29.
Greenebaum said the estate sites would go to 1 acre or less, instead of 3 or 4 acres each, but he would not begin building senior homes until after 2015 - if the county Zoning Board approves. The original plan approved four years ago called for 1,162 homes and 1.2 million square feet of commercial space for the neo-traditional development.
Adding homes for seniors after 2015 won't make for more school crowding and will serve a demographic trend and an upscale senior market.
Still, Taylor said he feels the expansion "is just way too much development for the whole road network." He'd like the Zoning Board to drop the density to two homes an acre, he said.
Nellie Hill, a 19-year veteran teacher who e-mailed Greenebaum after the meeting, called for more affordable housing available to people with civil servants' salaries, but said, "I have no problem with the development of Maple Lawn Farms. I give you a lot of credit for a well-planned community."
Republican County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon voted against the final Maple Lawn plan in 2000, favoring a version slightly heavier with commercial space, so the added offices and 29,000 square feet of retail could interest him, he said.
"I want to see what the whole plan entails," he said. "If they decide to file, I'll be looking for an increased amount of commercial development."
Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat who represents the Fulton area, said he, too, will reserve judgment for now, although he said: "I'm always pleased to see some senior housing in a mixed-use project - especially where I'm concerned about school capacity."