Residential zone change proposed

Commissioners considering residences above retail space

December 24, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The Carroll County commissioners are considering a zoning amendment that would allow residential apartments and condominiums to be built above retail space in shopping centers to create more medium-priced housing in the county.

While apartments are common above shops on the main streets of the county's municipalities, county law prohibits residential building on any land zoned for strip malls, known as planned business centers.

The county planning commission recently reviewed and recommended a draft amendment to permit mixed uses, which includes residential development at area shopping centers.

"It's an opportunity to offer residential development upstairs," county Planning Director Steven C. Horn told the commissioners. "We've got a long way to go in terms of work force housing, but there are things we can do now in advance of updating the [countywide] Pathways plan." Pathways is the county's comprehensive development plan.

County officials have repeatedly stressed the need for more rental apartments in Carroll. Almost 80 percent of Carroll's housing units were occupied by their owners in 2000 - making far fewer rentals available in Carroll than in any other surrounding counties, according to U.S. Census data.

"This is about your starting teacher or your starting policeman," said Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff. "Some might be condos and owned. Even with lower price value homes, we don't have as much in that market."

More and more counties are looking to the old main streets as models, to mimic how cities and counties naturally grew before zoning laws were in place.

In Baltimore, Montgomery, Howard and Anne Arundel counties - in much of Central Maryland - such mixed-use zones are springing up, said Richard Hall, director of land use and analysis for the state Department of Planning.

"We try to create or enable those type of development patterns because they actually worked," Hall said. Many Maryland municipalities are also revitalizing their classic downtowns to encourage residential dwelling on the second and third floors of buildings.

"There's a great deal of pressure to do compact, dense, mixed-use development in order to counter sprawl," said Jim Peck, director of research for the Maryland Municipal League.

More reasonably priced rentals could fill another void in the county: the lack of available Section 8 federal housing vouchers. More than 1,000 low-income Carroll residents are on a five-year waiting list for Section 8 vouchers, according to Loretta Greenwell, county manager of the federal program.

Building inexpensive apartments above more businesses would help, Greenwell said. "We're still having a difficult time locating decent, safe, affordable housing for people," she said.

While shopping center developers move through the planning process quickly, adding second-story residential development could complicate that process, said Neil Ridgely, the county's planning policy coordinator.

"Why would they want to put the shopping center on hold until school seats are available?" Ridgely said.

Still, he was hopeful that several hundred housing units would be built and might be small enough to cater mostly to single residents without young children who would contribute to school crowding.

The commissioners voted to put the zoning amendment to public hearing, which should be scheduled for sometime in January, Horn said. The residences must be above the first floor in new or redeveloped shopping centers and cannot take up more than 50 percent of the development, according to the amendment.

To enforce cost ceilings, apartments would be between 600 and 1,000 square feet. Horn said such developments shouldn't require many additional parking spaces, since lots would primarily be used by retail customers by day and apartment residents overnight.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge wondered how the county could pressure developers to make such residences affordable - perhaps through waiving impact fees as an incentive.

"If we truly want it to be affordable housing, we need to figure out how to regulate it," Gouge said.

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said that developing affordable options requires more cooperation with the county's cities and towns.

"I do not see a solution to our work force housing issues without cooperation with landowners, developers and towns," he said.

To jump-start more industrial development, the planning commission is also reviewing an amendment to permit some retail and commercial development in up to 15 percent of a county industrial business park.

"It's really a concept to promote and stimulate development on some of our industrial land lying vacant," county Economic Development Director Lawrence F. Twele said.

But Planning Commission members were worried that commercial development could overtake the park, Horn said. He said the amendment would be redrafted to address the commission's concerns before it was considered for a public hearing. All agreed the language must be clear to limit retail uses.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.