Zoning compromise proposed for west

`Intent is to sweeten the pot,' official says

September 28, 2005|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Planning officials have proposed a compromise to end the continuing dispute over how to contain development in western Howard County.

The proposal attempts to protect property values and permanently preserve land, which has proven to be a difficult balancing act. It also represents a significant softening in the county's position.

The key elements would:

Prohibit properties of 50 acres or more that are zoned rural conservation (RC) from receiving building rights, or density. The county initially proposed an absolute ban.

Provide property owners an incentive by allowing them to sell building rights at one unit per 2.5 acres on property of 20 to 299 acres. The ratio would be one unit per 3 acres for property ranging from 6 to 19 acres that is 40 percent surrounded by preserved land.

"The intent is to sweeten the pot," Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, told a citizens committee examining the issue.

McLaughlin appointed the 19-member committee after her initial recommendations in July to limit growth in the west ignited a storm of opposition.

The committee has met four times and is scheduled is reconvene Oct. 11. It could be the panel's final meeting.

The county is being pressured by the state to restrict growth in the west so more land can be preserved. The state has threatened to not recertify the county as part of the Maryland agriculture preservation program if sufficient limits are not imposed.

An analysis by the planning department revealed that farmland is being developed with about the same density as properties zoned rural residential (RR), where the county has tried to concentrate most of the homebuilding in the west, officials have said.

The county has placed about 19,200 acres into agriculture preserve - far short of the almost 25,000 acres it had hoped for. It has since lowered its goal to about 21,000 acres.

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