Development bill to be aired again

June 04, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

County residents will get another chance this month to testify on a proposal to double the number of new housing units allowed annually for projects along the U.S. 1 corridor.

At a meeting marked by delays and confusion over procedure, the County Council voted Monday to table the bill. But the council also voted to allow more public testimony on the measure, as well as a series of amendments, at its monthly public hearing June 16. Normally, tabled bills are not subject to further public testimony.

County Executive Ken Ulman proposed the bill, which would speed redevelopment in the U.S. 1 corridor, from Interstste 95 east to the Anne Arundel County line. The measure seeks to double the number of new residential units that can be approved each year in the corridor from 250 to 500 by "borrowing" from future allotments. Howard uses a system of annual housing allocations to limit growth to no more than 1,850 units approved each year countywide.

The bill is intended to aid large projects such as the Savage MARC train station mixed-use community and the redevelopment of the Aladdin Mobile Home Park that likely would face long delays under the current laws.

But the bill has raised objections from civic groups and Elkridge residents worried about crowded schools and roads.

The Monday council meeting began nearly a half-hour late as members conferred individually with county lawyers and planning officials over procedural issues. Similar questions forced another 15-minute recess later in the session.

Discussion took several twists, with members voting on one amendment but not several others. One member abstained on the amendment, then moved to table the bill, while another complained that voting on only one of the amendments was unfair.

Before tabling the bill on a motion by Fulton Republican Greg Fox, the council approved an amendment from council Chairwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City-Elkridge Democrat, to exclude most of Elkridge from the bill.

Watson said her amendment to remove everything north of Route 100 was intended to protect Elkridge from over-development.

Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat who also represents a slice of Elkridge, then proposed moving that dividing line north a half-mile to coincide with the council district boundary between Watson's District 1 and his District 2. That was approved on a 4-0 vote, with Fox abstaining. It would allow owners of the Troy Hill Corporate Center, the Route 100 Industrial Park, and the Belmont Station townhouse community to get more housing allocations if the bill is approved July 7.

"I'm very satisfied they decided to table this," said Howard Johnson, president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association, who watched from the audience.

Fox, who said he abstained partly out of confusion over procedure, then moved to table the bill. That passed on a 3-1 vote with Watson abstaining and Jen Terrasa, a North laurel-Savage Democrat in opposition.

Terrasa said later she didn't think it fair that the council voted on Watson's amendment but no others. Ball said his boundary change was to provide more "flexibility" to the U.S. 1 revitalization program, rather than to help a specific project or developer.

Terrasa and Ball, together with Ulman, had proposed an amendment to allow developers to have the extra housing allocations if they paid a cash fee or donated land to the county in return. Fox also had prepared an amendment to continue to limit the extra allocations to mixed-use projects, excluding developments that were all residential.

Grace Kubofcik, co-president of the League of Women Voters, said her group pushed hard to have the bill tabled and subjected to more discussion. She also criticized the Terrasa-Ball amendment to require cash or land in return for extra allocations.

"That almost reeks of selling housing allocations," she said.

Terrasa later countered that a payment from developers would help the county provide public services more quickly in response to faster development allowed by the change in law.

Fox said he had no ulterior motive in voting to table the bill after Watson's amendment passed, rather than before it was voted on.

Watson said she was satisfied at the result.

If all that wasn't confusing enough, county lawyers told council members that they can still reconsider Watson's amendment in July, despite having approved it Monday.

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