Panel denies density boost

Zoning Board says no to request for Maple Lawn

`They made the right decision'

Senior-housing plan also rejected in 4-1 vote


Despite all the facts, figures, projections and often eloquent debate, the biggest question for months underlying efforts to expand Maple Lawn, Maryland has been: Did Howard County officials enter into an all but ironclad commitment when they approved the project five years ago?

The Zoning Board, which is made up of members of the County Council, gave a resounding "yes" as it voted, 4-1, Thursday night to deny a request to increase the overall density, or number of units per acre, in the planned community in Fulton.

Another victim of the vote was the plan by the developer, Greenebaum and Rose Associates Inc., to construct a senior-housing component with about 240 units as a separate and confined development within Maple Lawn to meet the county's growing housing needs for the elderly.

The board, as expected, did approve the developer's request to add about 97 acres to the "old town" project. On most of that property - 94 acres roughly in the center of Maple Lawn - the density can be increased to 2.3 units per acre.

But an overall increase in density was the key, and the developer found support only in board member Charles C. Feaga, who said the proposal was sensible and modest. "I think the county will look back on [the vote] as a mistake," he said.

Stewart Greenebaum, founding partner and president of Greenebaum and Rose, said, "We think that the Zoning Board has some very serious matters to reconsider, and we are filing motions in that regard."

The developer may appeal to the Howard County Circuit Court within 30 days after receiving the board's signed order, or ask for reconsideration by the board, though that rarely results in a reversal

Critics of the expansion, mostly residents of nearby neighborhoods, celebrated their victory.

"I applaud the Zoning Board for holding for the decision that was made previously," said Greg Brown, one of the leaders of the opposing faction. "I agree that there has not been significant changes" to justify overturning the limitation on overall density that was imposed when the county approved the development in December 2000. "They made the right decision."

John Adolphsen, an opponent of the project for years, smiled broadly. "It's pretty close to what I expected," he said.

The developer had sought to increase overall density to 2.7 units per acre from 2.2; boost the commercial district to 1.8 million square feet from 1.175 million square feet; and regain 52 units eliminated by the county from the project five years ago.

Richard B. Talkin, an attorney representing the developer, urged the board to act favorably on Greenebaum's application, saying that it "meets or exceeds all criteria" that "merits your approval. ... It's the right thing to do."

He noted that millions of dollars have been spent improving Route 216 and U.S. 29, including construction of four interchanges, in anticipation of the development - a mix of $1 million luxury homes, Class A, or premium, commercial office space, retail and entertainment and vast open spaces.

"There's been a huge investment by the state and county in Maple Lawn," Talkin said.

He said the proposal included significant buffers and safeguards so that nearby residents would not be adversely affected.

G. Macy Nelson, an attorney for the opponents, said there is no justification for overturning the plan as initially approved. The developer's plan, he said, would be incompatible with the neighborhood and a violation of the county's commitment made to his clients five years ago.

"Abide by the 2000 decision," Nelson said. "Give respect to the decision of five years ago."

In the end, that proved to be the most profound factor for the Zoning Board.

Guy Guzzone, who was on the County Council when it approved Maple Lawn in 2000, said the development has "exceeded in quality my expectations." Nonetheless, he said, "five years ago I signed a DNO [decision and order] ... at 2.2" density. "I don't believe that we are legally responsible to be held to that. ... However, I can't go back on what I signed."

He was supported by Christopher J. Merdon, board Chairman Ken Ulman and David A. Rakes.

Immediately after the vote, Feaga sought to overturn that decision and approve the developer's application. That failed on a 3-2 vote, with Rakes inexplicably joining him.

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