Key issues in flux as voting on land use nears

Merdon says he'll urge council to reject zoning change for Ellicott City church

Impact of expansion on neighbors is of concern

March 04, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A key county councilman said yesterday that he will propose rejecting a contested zoning change for Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City.

If a majority of the five Howard County Council members agree with Councilman Christopher J. Merdon's stance at Monday night's voting session, it likely will delay a major expansion of church facilities on St. Johns Lane, pleasing nearby residents.

"I feel great, but apprehensive," about whether the rest of the council will agree with Merdon, said Angela Beltram, a community leader and former county councilwoman.

Sang Oh, the church's attorney, could not be reached for comment.

Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican who represents the area, agreed with neighbors of the church that rezoning the property would give church leaders too much freedom and not enough public scrutiny in adding a 90,000-square-foot facility and 350 more parking spaces to their 28-acre property between U.S. 29 and St. Johns Lane.

Without the zoning change, the church must use a more traditional process to expand, which involves public hearings and a detailed review of the church's plans. Rezoning the land would allow church leaders to proceed without that scrutiny.

"I believe the church can still reach its goals of building a new facility under R-20 [residential zoning]. It provides a more thorough review process. Their plans will have a large impact on the community, and if it's going to have such an impact, it should go through a long review process," Merdon said.

Merdon's decision is the latest in a series of proposals that surfaced this week in preparation for Monday night's scheduled County Council vote on 41 zoning issues - including one that goes to the heart of the changes proposed along the U.S. 40 corridor.

At a council work session Tuesday, Merdon said he is also hesitant to apply a new Traditional Neighborhood Center high-density zoning to several shopping centers at once. The zoning category was designed as a way to allow more urbanization in older suburban centers.

"It seems like we're jumping into the TNC concept without knowing if it would work," Merdon said at the council's discussion meeting.

Allowing up to 20 residential units per acre at the 46-acre Normandy Shopping Center, or at the Chatham center farther west, may be too many, he said.

Planning Director Marsha L. McLaughlin said the council could reduce the residential density.

Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat, said, "I really like the concept of mixed use" in those locations, but the eventual vote is still uncertain.

In other issues:

Merdon suggested capping density in a new senior housing zone at 10 units an acre on parcels of 5 acres or less - a change that would halve the 82 senior housing units proposed by the Columbia Housing Corp. for a 4-acre site on Chatham Road.

The change "would be a big problem. The more people we can help, the better," said Carol MacPhee, executive director of the nonprofit housing agency.

County-owned land on the north side of Route 100 near Route 103 could be exchanged for an adjoining private parcel bordering Route 103 in years to come for a proposed county fire station, but state restrictions on the use of the county land must be resolved first, county public works Director James M. Irvin told the council.

Merdon pleased residents of Upton Road in Ellicott City by suggesting that the council leave wooded land at the end of Upton Road off St. Johns Lane as residential instead of changing the zoning for office or commercial use.

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