Projects put on faster track

U.S. 1

July 09, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

A measure to allow speedier approvals for revitalization projects along the U.S. 1 corridor won unanimous approval from the County Council, but only after several amendments sharply limiting the law's effect were added.

The bill approved Monday doubles the number of housing units allowed each year by permitting the borrowing of allocations from future years. However, the council's amendments to the measure impose several restrictions:

* Limiting allocations to projects comprising commercial and residential development, a reversal from the original proposal that made residential-only projects eligible.

* Requiring developers seeking extra allocations to donate land to the county that could be used for schools or other public buildings.

* Limiting the area affected by the measure to projects between Interstate 95 and the Anne Arundel County line by excluding most of Elkridge.

Though the restrictions prevent the bill from helping the Savage MARC train project because of its limited acreage, it could help the redevelopment of Aladdin Mobile Home Park farther north.

"It allows some flexibility," said County Executive Ken Ulman, whose administration proposed the measure.

Council members said they are satisfied.

"It will offer a small piece of the puzzle," said council member Jen Terrasa, a Democrat who represents the North Laurel-Savage portion of the corridor.

Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat whose district includes Jessup and a small portion of Elkridge, said, "It allows the opportunity to spur revitalization and protects existing neighborhoods."

"I think each one of us compromised," said council Chairman Courtney Watson, a Democrat who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge.

Ulman administration officials are worried that progress along U.S. 1 could stall because of growth restrictions in the county's system of annual housing allocations, while area residents worry that accelerating redevelopment will outstrip the county's ability to provide roads, schools and amenities.

The council also unanimously approved two bills aimed at regulating new shared septic systems built in the county - including the replacement system being built at the Villas at Cattail Creek - while also preventing a repetition of that community's failed system in other projects. About 50 of the senior citizens who live in the western county retirement townhouse community attended the council meeting in Ellicott City.

A third bill, also heavily amended, would allow preservation of small vacant lots in older neighborhoods by giving the owners the right to sell their development rights for transfer to new projects in alternate locations. The council required, however, that those transferred rights go to parcels of at least 11 acres and in the same area of the county.

Other amendments limited zones for transferred building rights. For example, none can go to the large Turf Valley community under development in western Ellicott City.

The Cattail Creek sewage issue delayed the start of the meeting after an attorney for the community's developers requested a delay in voting on the amendment that would include Cattail under new regulations. But county Solicitor Margaret Ann Nolan assured council members that the amendment does not change the bill so radically that it required a delay.

Residents at Cattail have suffered for several years with a shared septic system that has never worked, requiring trucks to pump and remove sewage daily.

The county has had no legal authority over construction of such systems until now, after passage of state legislation this year.

"It helps," Cattail board President Jim Wilding said of the legislation. "For four years, we've had a problem."

The residents have a lawsuit pending against the developer, and Ulman has said the county is considering legal action.

Councilman Greg Fox, who sponsored one of the bills to prohibit installation of multiuse sewage systems except in extreme circumstances, said his measure would "shut the door on future new residential systems."

The problem, he said, is that even if such systems work, tightening state standards could substantially boost the cost of operation in the future, or the systems could fail after the development is complete, leaving a problem for the residents and ultimately, for the county.

Donald R. Reuwer, a partner in the Cattail development, also attended the meeting and said he approved of the Ulman administration bill regulating shared septic systems.

"We've been trying to make it right," he said.

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