Opposition to U.S. 1 proposal renewed

June 18, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN REPORTER

Residents and several civic groups have renewed their opposition to an Ulman administration bill intended to speed redevelopment along the U.S. 1 corridor, but business interests are pushing for the measure's approval by the County Council on July 7.

Public facilities that support development should be in place before, not after, construction, said several speakers who testified at a council public hearing Monday that stretched until just before midnight.

"County policy should not be to accommodate individual specific parcel development at the expense of others along the roadway," said Grace Kubofcik, co-president of the Howard County League of Women Voters.

Anirban Basu, an economist, countered that view, saying that without the bill, "the Route 1 revitalization is steadily grinding to a halt."

Basu, who said he appeared without fee at the request of development lawyer Richard Talkin, said that opposition to redeveloping older neighborhoods is what drives suburban sprawl and longer commutes. Allowing large new projects along U.S. 1 will help provide the tax revenues needed for a new library, fire station and community center residents want, as well as capturing growth from military base realignments. Developers say they can't get financing for large projects unless they first have county allocations that allow them to build.

The emotional testimony on the bill, which would double the number of housing allocations available each year by "borrowing" 250 annually from future years, would speed construction of several large projects in Jessup and Savage. Howard County uses an allocation system to limit growth in each of five areas of the county.

The bill was one of three measures that drew lengthy public testimony at the hearing.

Another land-use bill is intended to protect older neighborhoods. Sponsored by council Chairman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, the measure would allow owners of small lots in developed areas to sell their development rights to builders with at least 15 acres in other locations. The buyers also would get a 10 percent density bonus on the receiving site, giving them more new homes and higher profits, while preserving the original lots.

Residents of Elkridge and Ellicott City have complained that because of higher land values, large homes are sprouting on vacant lots, ruining the appearance of their neighborhoods and causing congestion.

Council member Jen Terrasa, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, complained that she has yet to see a map showing zones where transferred building rights can be used.

A third issue drew support from more than 40 residents of the Villas at Cattail Creek, a west county townhouse development for seniors, who have suffered for five years with an unworkable shared sewage system. Noisy smelly trucks haul human waste from the community three to five times a day, they said.

The residents came to support two bills addressing the issue. An Ulman administration bill would create county regulations for the construction of a new sewage system at Cattail and anywhere else a shared system is allowed. The bill follows enabling legislation sponsored by Del. Warren E. Miller and approved by the General Assembly this year.

The second bill, sponsored by west county Republican Greg Fox, would ban more shared sewage systems except in extraordinary circumstances. The systems are used in higher-density projects such as townhouses or condominiums on rural land not served by water and sewer pipes.

On the U.S. 1 bill, the council is considering several amendments and plans a work session discussion Friday. One amendment that was approved before the bill was tabled June 2 would exclude most of Elkridge from its provisions.

Officials of the League of Women Voters and the Howard County Citizens Association said they still oppose the bill, which could aid construction of a large mixed-use development at the Savage MARC train station and redevelopment of the closed Aladdin Mobile Home Park in Jessup.

Howard Johnson, president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association, repeated his objections that the bill would further strain outdated roads, schools and other public facilities.

Stuart Kohn of North Laurel said Howard County General Hospital is overwhelmed now.

"We come first, not the development community," he said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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