Zoning vote called boon to U.S. 1 effort

Change in classification of 76 acres in Jessup clears the way for commercial-residential development in revitalization zone

March 17, 2006|BY A SUN REPORTER

In unanimously rezoning almost 76 acres in Jessup for a commercial-residential development, the Zoning Board called the proposal one of the "most important" in Howard County's efforts to rejuvenate the U.S. 1 corridor.

The board's action frees the property from the handcuffs of a legal challenge that placed all rezoning decisions from the so-called Comp Lite process last year in limbo. The public will vote on Comp Lite in a referendum in November's general election.

Much of the land rezoned Wednesday night faces U.S. 1 and will be combined with about 20 additional acres, owned by a second property owner to accommodate the development.

The developer, Blue Stream LLC, intends to construct a mix of commercial office buildings and residential units, said Richard B. Talkin, an attorney representing the builder. The details have not been formalized and will be subject to normal regulatory review. It is unclear when those plans will be filed.

The board, which is composed of County Council members, approved the rezoning petition on a 4-0 vote. A fifth member, David A. Rakes did not attend.

The property was rezoned from business and light manufacturing to CAC, or corridor activity center, a classification created specifically to help revitalize U.S. 1 by, in part, permitting mixed uses and higher density, or housing units per acre.

"This is what I live for," said board member Guy Guzzone after the meeting. "We're heading down the right road. This creates the synergy to make Route 1 a special place, and I am very excited."

Board member Christopher J. Merdon said he is concerned with the shrinking availability of land zoned for employment uses and said that the county should resist rezoning property because of market forces. But, he said, "Route 1, obviously, is a very special case, and it has lot of possibilities. ... This will be another shot in the arm" for the corridor.

Revamping the 13-mile-long corridor is a major priority for the county. Although officials acknowledge the process will be a slow one, several key projects are in development:

Atlantic Realty Cos. spent $9 million to convert the former Eastgate Shopping Center in Jessup into 60 commercial condominiums for sale or lease. The first leg of that project opened this year.

Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar expansion of its manufacturing and distribution plant.

The North Laurel Hill Street project includes plans for 80 apartments and almost 15,000 square feet of commercial space.

The Elkridge Crossing project would include 362 apartments and more than 122,000 square feet for commercial use.

The corridor "will be the site of the inevitable growth that we want and that will occur," Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority, said late last year. "Route 1 will become the last frontier."

The Department of Planning and Zoning supported Blue Stream's petition, saying it would "establish a more appropriate land use pattern" than under existing zoning.

It will be jointly developed with adjoining property of the former Luskin's operation, which was rezoned to CAC in 2004.

The Zoning Board agreed with the developer that the county had erred when it left unchanged Blue Stream's property while rezoning the adjoining parcel, and that there have been significant changes in the neighborhood to nullify the current zoning.

One or both of those was required for the board to rezone the property in the face of the referendum.

Sean Davis, director of land planning for Morris & Ritchie Associates Inc., an architectural, engineering and planning firm, said the development is consistent with the county's general plan and "will be the most important force in the implementation" of the new zoning district for the U.S. 1 corridor.

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