Planning Board approves two stalled projects

Mixed-use, commercial developments had been put on hold by zoning challenges

September 02, 2005|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Two projects thrown into limbo by a referendum challenging broad zoning changes last year are clear to move forward now that the Howard County Planning Board has ruled both meet stringent legal requirements.

The larger of the two developments is considered a vital element in the county's efforts to revitalize the U.S. 1 corridor, large sections of which have been in decline for years.

The board actions Wednesday unanimously:

Approved the rezoning of 13.55 acres near U.S. 1 and Mission Road. The developer, Mission Road Investors LLC, plans a mixed-use development that will include retail shops, 248 apartments, 48 townhouses and 68 condominiums. The project also will have a large garage and swimming pool.

Rezoned slightly more than 2 acres near Route 108 and Highland Road for 10 two-story office buildings, designed to appear as townhouses to conform with the neighborhood. The developer, Highland Crossing LLC, also plans to build a restaurant-pub and retail space on adjacent property.

The projects have the support of neighboring residents, said David A. Carney, an attorney representing both developers.

Plans for both properties were among numerous projects put on hold when a group of citizens successfully placed a referendum on next year's ballot that, if approved by voters, would overturn a package of changes adopted last year by the county as an extension of its comprehensive zoning process, known as Comp Lite.

Applications may proceed only if the developer can prove that significant changes have occurred in the neighborhood, making his project the only logical recourse, or that the County Council factually erred in deciding the zoning of specific properties. Both are difficult hurdles to overcome.

On Wednesday, though, the Planning Board ruled that both petitions for rezoning should be approved. Those decisions are subject to approval by the Zoning Board, which is composed of council members.

The council erred in not rezoning the Mission Road property to conform with adjacent land. That failure, the board said, was in conflict with the general plan - the blueprint on how and where development will occur - and precluded the possibility of developing the property as hoped by the county.

In the Highland Road case, the board concluded that there have been overwhelming changes in the neighborhood that justify the developer's petition for rezoning.

The area, the board ruled, has been transformed by residential growth and increased traffic but lacks the expected commercial and retail services.

In an unrelated matter, the board approved a site development plan for the construction of 19 townhouses in Maple Lawn, Maryland, the planned community near Fulton.

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