2 tower bills are tabled

Hopes for a compromise pinned on a Friday meeting

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

With hopes for a compromise on the height of a residential tower under construction in central Columbia focused on a meeting Friday morning, the Howard County Council agreed to Mary Kay Sigaty's request to postpone votes on two bills limiting the height of the 23-story Plaza Residence project.

The building, a 275-foot luxury condominium building, is under way where Columbia's first movie theater once stood.

The County Council unanimously agreed Monday to postpone action on one of Sigaty's two bills -- a temporary, 150-foot height limit on all buildings in Columbia until a master plan for Town Center redevelopment is adopted next year.

But the vote to postpone action on her second bill passed 3-2, as two council members, Fulton Republican Greg Fox, and Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson, wanted to kill it outright. That bill would allow new regulations to affect projects under way if they remain under appeal -- an idea business interests in the county strongly oppose.

The tower's builder, WCI Communities of Reston, Va., has all its building permits and is doing preliminary construction work on the site bordering Little Patuxent Parkway near Lake Kittamaqundi.

Sigaty, a Democrat from Columbia, said she wanted to table the bills because of "an outpouring of community concern and a desire to work for one last time on a compromise." There was "enough progress made" in a meeting Sept. 28, she said, to delay the votes on both tower bills and let the parties get together again Friday.

Council Chairman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, and Jen Terrasa, who represents the southeast county, will represent the council at the private session.

Terrasa said she supported tabling the bills because "we've heard repeated calls for compromise," and the meeting last week was a "really fruitful discussion." She said County Executive Ken Ulman also has been trying to get the parties together. "I strongly believe there is still room for compromise."

But Fox and Watson agreed with the county's business community that the bill would allow unfair retroactive interference with approved projects and should be rejected.

"This is an issue that affects more than the tower and more than new town [Columbia]. I think we should vote on it," Fox said before the 3-2 vote to table.

Watson said Sigaty's bill is "not in the best interest of Howard County, and "creates an incentive for frivolous appeals. It's a bad bill. I vote no," she said.

Others argued for a negotiated compromise.

"A straight up or down vote doesn't create the best solution for the county," Sigaty said about her bills.

Joel Broida, one of four Town Center residents who mounted legal challenges to the tower over the building's height, said he was satisfied with Monday night's votes.

"It gives some time for more discussions," he said after the meeting. Broida said he plans to attend the meeting Friday in the George Howard Building.

William Rowe, vice president of WCI's mid-Atlantic tower division, said, "Obviously, we wished the bills were defeated," though the tabling was expected.

"I am continuously optimistic that a compromise can be reached," Rowe said.

In other action, the council unanimously voted to:

Create a committee to study whether Howard County should compete for a state-sponsored horse center that Anne Arundel County rejected.

Require any golf course slated for development to enroll in a state program for environmental testing. The bill was amended to toughen standards and clearly define which land would be affected.

The bill was sought because of arsenic found on one spot near a maintenance shed on the Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center, an Ellicott City hotel and golf club due for a major mixed-use development.

Approve a list of environmentally friendly "green" features a residential development must have to qualify for a pool of building permits allowed as an incentive for this type of project. That bill was amended to provide the council members with periodic reports on the program.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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