County ponders a design group

Bill would create an advisory panel on developments

August 03, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

A development's appearance and harmony with its surroundings - or the lack thereof - have sparked many a suburban dispute, but Howard County officials say they may have a solution.

Legislation to create a design review panel is to be discussed at a county Planning Board meeting Thursday night. After consideration by the board, a bill will likely be introduced before the County Council.

The proposal would create a five-member design advisory panel made up of architects, engineers and planners to make recommendations on aesthetics and compatibility while development plans are being processed.

The group would initially study plans for new projects along the U.S. 1 corridor, where a design manual exists, and for senior housing proposals. In addition, the group would draft design manuals for development along U.S. 40 and Columbia, said county Planning Director Marsha McLaughlin.

For years, Columbia has controlled design through covenants enforced by local village boards and through the former Rouse Co., which developed the town.

"The purpose of the panel will be to encourage excellence in site design and architecture while still promoting design compatibility and revitalization," said County Executive Ken Ulman, who announced the proposal.

Angela Beltram, a former County Council member and community activist on land-use issues, said she welcomes the panel's creation but hopes that it will have more power.

"I would love it, if it works," she said. "The design manual should have been done years ago."

Beltram said she would like a panel to have more than just advisory powers.

Ulman said similar panels have worked well in other jurisdictions, and he feels the advisory role could be productive.

"Many times, it's about the look and feel of the building. It [the panel] has the potential to prevent very poor design," he said, adding that panel members could suggest ways to make developments more attractive and more acceptable to existing residents - something virtually every developer would value.

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