Rezoning is facing multiple obstacles

Owners' attempt to develop land at Routes 100, 103 stalls

December 14, 2005|BY A SUN REPORTER

Being in limbo is the equivalent of a death warrant in business. For those hoping to develop a relatively modest parcel in Howard County, though, a reprieve, if there is to be one, will not come soon.

Indeed, their plans continue to sink deeper into the abyss -- the victim of opposition on multiple fronts.

The owners are seeking rezoning of the property -- 27.5 acres at Routes 100 and 103 -- to develop it commercially. David A. Carney, an attorney representing the estate of Carroll and Ruth Braun, said the property most likely would be developed for office space, a restaurant or age-restricted housing.

Since much of the Route 100 corridor is zoned for business uses, one might think that this latest proposal would win easy approval. But nothing has come easy for those plans, and that did not change last week.

First, opponents won a three-month delay from the Planning Board -- a move that prompted Carney to uncharacteristically display his irritation.

That, though, is the least of the project's problems.

The rezoning was approved once, but obstructed by a referendum challenging all changes approved last year during the continuance of the county's comprehensive rezoning process, often referred to as Comp Lite. The referendum is scheduled to be decided by voters in next November's general election.

The project now faces additional opposition. Neighborhood groups have retained an attorney to fight Carney's attempt to remove the project from the referendum's shackles so that it may proceed.

The Department of Planning and Zoning has recommended approval of the rezoning. But in this case, that endorsement might not be enough.

To succeed, Carney must demonstrate that the county made a substantive error in its handling of the original rezoning application or that the neighborhood has undergone such significant change that rezoning is the only economically practical use of the property.

Three times this year, the Planning Board found in favor of developers who sought rezoning on those grounds, but it has denied others. Tammy J. CitaraManis, the chairwoman of the board, has said repeatedly that developers face a "tall hurdle" in proving either of those standards, and thus their rezoning applications should be approved despite the referendum.

Carney is arguing a two-pronged case:

That the County Council erred in 2003 when it declined to include the property in the comprehensive rezoning process and, instead, deferred consideration for a year during Comp Lite. Also, that the current zoning is not suitable for the site because of noise from Route 100 and because its location is ideal for development with employment uses, which the county has encouraged.

That the characteristics of the neighborhood have changed substantially, most notably to business development. Several other properties, he notes, have been rezoned by the county to that which his client is seeking, to planned office research and community center transition.

Those rezonings, Carney argues, "continued land-use changes along Route 100."

Residents in the area have adopted diametrically opposite views. Their attorney, Katherine L. Taylor, issued a statement that says, in part, that her clients "believe that residential zoning is more compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, and that commercial zoning will further worsen traffic problems" on Routes 100 and 103.

Neither Carney nor Taylor presented their cases after the Planning Board agreed to a delay in the hearing until March 2, because the case's file open to the public was incomplete and did not contain an amendment filed on behalf of the Braun estate. Taylor argued that she needed more time to prepare because of that error.

"Hopefully the problem will be corrected and it won't come up again," CitaraManis told the planning staff.

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