Community groups join forces in effort to defeat rezoning plans along U.S. 40

Some proposals `unofficially rejected,' councilman says

Ellicott City

February 22, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Standing in the fog yesterday beside a huge Kmart store in the Chatham Square shopping center, leaders of seven older Ellicott City communities along U.S. 40 announced they are banding together to preserve their slice of suburbia.

Former County Councilwoman Angela Beltram organized the group, called the Coalition of Neighborhoods, to add muscle to the complaints of individual communities about rezoning proposals on which the County Council is scheduled to vote March 7. They plan to press their case at tonight's council rezoning hearing.

Howard County is nearing the end of what county officials have termed "Comp Lite," which involves consideration of zoning changes on 41 parcels - mainly along U.S. 40 from Patapsco State Park to Frederick Road - after last year's comprehensive rezoning.

Several proposals have riled different groups along the corridor. One suggests commercial zoning for older suburban homes near Frederick Road's intersection with U.S. 40. Another would permit up to 20 residential units per acre at Normandy Shopping Center. Another would allow a major church expansion on St. Johns Lane.

County Council members pointed out that many of those hot-button issues probably would be decided in the residents' favor, but that hasn't slaked their determination, or their criticism.

"We're all facing the same thing. You've got all this `infill' coming in. They're trying to make all of Howard County like Columbia," said Robert Emanuel, president of Chestnut Hill Estates Association near Patapsco State Park. Infill refers to development - or redevelopment - on small parcels in built-up neighborhoods.

The residents said they feared developers were having their way with Howard County government, cramming big new homes onto tiny lots and seeking commercial zoning on residential land.

"We don't want to be Bethesda or Rockville," said Paula Shepherd, a member of the Bethany Woods Community Association.

"We all represent huge community associations. It's not just one little segment of the community," said Mary Catherine Cochran, a vocal opponent of commercialization on the fringes of her Coventry Court neighborhood at the western end of the corridor.

But Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel/Savage Democrat, said the Columbia Housing Corp. has withdrawn a request to build up to 92 units for moderate-income seniors on Chatham Road. Changing the residential neighborhood to a commercial zone at Coventry Court and along Frederick Road "does not have the support" needed for passage, Guzzone said.

"Most of this stuff has already been unofficially rejected," said Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon. The proposals that have most disturbed residents have come mainly from county government, not council members, he noted.

Still, in a statement announcing the group's formation, Beltram said the residents needed the extra strength their alliance would bring "to oppose the constant barrage of assaults against residentially zoned neighborhoods in the Ellicott City area."

Her group also objects, she said, to the introduction of new rezoning issues this year, instead of strictly sticking to issues left over from last year.

"To throw in these last-minute things" isn't fair, said Norman Hoffheiser, who is trying to rejuvenate the Greater Pine Orchard Association.

But Guzzone and Merdon rejected that charge.

"Every single thing filed has followed all the rules," Merdon said, adding that there is no law requiring issues to be reviewed by the county Planning Board before submission to the council. "All properties have been advertised, notices sent out and they had at least three weeks to prepare testimony," he said.

Guzzone said the entire U.S. 40 corridor represented a new issue, because "we postponed every consideration of Route 40" last year.

"To me, this is how it's supposed to work. They've given us their opinions," Guzzone said.

Councilman Charles C. Feaga, who represents the western end of the corridor, sympathized with the residents that "a lot has been thrown at them." But "these same people have to realize when you do infill, it prevents [development] from pushing out further into the [western] county."

The groups represented in the new coalition are from Valley Mede, Pine Orchard, Bethany Woods, the North St. John's Community Association, Rolling Acres, Chestnut Hill Estates and the Normandy Heights Improvement Association.

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