Affordable housing bill may die

Measure prompts concerns about big buildings, small lots

September 29, 2006|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN REPORTER

A bill that was intended to promote more affordable housing, but which raised development fears among some Howard County residents, is to be withdrawn, according to County Councilman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, who is the sponsor.

The measure, which would exempt from some zoning restrictions affordable housing on commercially zoned land, is scheduled for a council vote Tuesday night.

No one testified on the measure at the public hearing Sept. 19, but critics of county zoning policies raised red flags yesterday, worried that the bill could result in large apartment houses being built on some small lots - projects that could be incompatible with existing homes and businesses.

If the bill dies, it could affect plans for a 59-unit, four-story, moderate-income building proposed on a 2.5-acre site south of U.S. 40 in western Ellicott City.

Leonard S. Vaughan, county housing director, told two county councilmen Tuesday that housing proposed under the bill would have to conform with parking, height and setback requirements for zoning, but not with regulations on density - the number of units per acre.

Ball said he saw it "as a way to better leverage county resources - an opportunity to increase affordable housing. I didn't ask about any specific project."

But the bill needs "more community input," he said, and there isn't time to amend it and hold new hearings before the Nov. 7 election.

The Housing Commission already has the ability to build affordable housing on commercial property without density limits under the title because it is considered a government use of land, but the bill would have added the public-private partnership aspect to the law.

Critics such as Mary Catherine Cochran worried that although the measure may help one inoffensive project, it would apply countywide with no guarantees about future projects.

In an e-mail yesterday urging residents to lobby council members, Cochran referred to the bill as "another attempt at backdoor rezoning."

"It would allow current commercially zoned property to become high-density residential for affordable housing," she said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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