Some Projects Moving Forward In Howard

Up To 5,000 Homes Recently Built, Under Construction Or Planned In U.s. 1 Corridor

August 30, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,

The recession has brought many development projects and accompanying political tensions to a halt in Howard County, but that doesn't mean that planning for new projects has stopped.

While the idea for redeveloping Columbia's downtown is getting the most public attention, smaller projects are getting very little. One such project is Morris Place, a townhouse/office project that Ryan Homes wants to build where several commercial buildings now stand in the 7400 block of U.S. 1, south of Route 103.

Former county planning director Joseph Rutter, now in private practice, held what the county calls a "pre-submission meeting" for the new Ryan project at the Elkridge Library on Aug. 12, but no citizens attended to hear about it.

The meetings, listed on the county's Web site, are required by the county to provide information to the public before any formal plan submission to Howard government.

Rutter said the chances are that no homes would be built on the 17.25-acre property on Cemetery Lane behind Trinity Episcopal Church and the former Luskins warehouse shopping center for up to eight years, but he wanted to "get in line" to await county housing permit allocations for the project.

The county uses an annual allocation system to limit the number of new homes allowed as a way of managing growth, and county planners say that all permit allocations in that area are already assigned until 2015. Processing construction plans could take two more years.

Rutter's project is one small part of up to 5,000 homes either recently built, under construction or planned in the redeveloping U.S. 1 corridor from North Laurel to Elkridge. And those units are coming faster than the 5,500 units that General Growth Properties wants to build in Columbia in the next three decades.

Howard Johnson, president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association, and the Rev. John Steiner of historic Trinity Episcopal, said they didn't know about the meeting, and their feelings differed when they heard about it from a reporter.

"We're sitting in the middle of Route 1. We're happy to see all the houses we can get," Steiner said, anticipating more potential church members. Sunday attendance is about 70 people now, he said.

Johnson said his overall frustration with the county's approach to development remains.

"I would like to find a way to budget ahead and have infrastructure before development," he said, adding that although the county government is pushing for new schools, road improvements and public transit, there appears to be no state money available.

"They come back with a big plan, but there's no money," Johnson said.

Many of the new homes planned along the U.S. 1 corridor would go on land immediately south of the Ryan project, between Interstate 95 on the west, U.S. 1 on the east, Route 175 on the south and Route 103 on the north.

There are the 1,330 units planned for the open Bluestream property next to the Luskin's warehouse. That could include some high-rises along I-95. Next door is Howard Square, the former Aladdin Mobile Home park, where 1,067 new homes, plus businesses and office and hotel space is planned.

School board officials hope to build a new elementary school at Howard Square, but then they'll need a middle school along the corridor too, said school planner Joel Gallihue.

Mission Place, with 375 residences, is under construction at a former warehouse site south of Route 175, and Elkridge Crossing's 362 units are partly built. There also are 318 Belmont Station townhouses across U.S. 1, the Village Towns development, the Savage MARC train station project and more.

Elected officials are well aware of the potential effects of all those new homes.

Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat and former school board member whose district includes Elkridge, has pushed the hardest among council members for new schools along U.S. 1 to halt crowding already evident at schools such as Bellow Springs, Elkridge Elementary and Laurel Woods. She's also pushed for a community center for Elkridge like the one under construction in North Laurel, and for other amenities, such as a larger library for the area.

Calvin Ball, an East Columbia Democrat whose district includes the midsection of the corridor, sees the development as a plus but says the county needs to pay attention now, before work begins on revamping the General Plan in the next year or two.

"I think there is a great deal of opportunity. We need to really focus on how to revitalize that section of our county," Ball said. "It's something we should be working out now."

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