A warning is issued on land-use policies

Panel seeks compromise on zoning in the west

September 14, 2005|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

An attorney has warned that the land the county hopes to preserve will be quickly developed if significant changes are made in land-use policies for western Howard County.

"People are not going to wait around for the next blow to hit," Richard B. Talkin, whose clients include some of the largest developers in the state, told a citizens committee that is trying to forge a compromise on new zoning proposals for the western region.

Talkin, a member of the 19-member committee, said large-property owners will either develop their land or sell it for development rather than risk losing millions of dollars.

"People are going to commit because they are not going to sit around for the government to change the rules again," he said. "We are not going to have uncommitted property five years from now."

The committee faces a daunting task, not because of animosity but because of the vastly disparate interests its members represent.

Nonetheless, there seems to be agreement that consensus can be found.

"There is a way to do it, but we just don't know the way," Randy Nixon, owner of Nixon's Farm, which is not a farm but about 130 acres from which a catering business operates, said after Monday's meeting. "We all want to preserve the Howard County way of life. To some extent, that way of life has already left us -- it's already gone. But to the extent that it still exists, we want to try to preserve it. ... There's a certain overarching belief that we should both maintain land values and preserve as much open space as we possibly can."

The committee was appointed by Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, after proposed restrictions on further development in the western region ignited broad opposition.

The proposals were prompted in large part by the state, which has threatened, in effect, to remove the county from Maryland's agriculture land preservation program.

The state has complained for years that the county's policies allow too much density, or homes per acre, in the west, the primary focus of the preservation efforts in Howard County.

Nixon criticized the state's pressure.

"Marsha's been put on the spot," he said after the meeting. "[She's] been excoriated, even though this is by far the best office of planning and zoning in the entire state. ... It's a political problem, and it should be dealt with politically."

Still, Nixon believes the committee will find a solution to the problem.

"I think we can reach a consensus," he said. "No one wants to put homebuilders out of business. No one wants to impoverish farmers. And everyone wants to preserve [land]. ... We'll find a way of building consensus."

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