Despite neighbors' opposition, a plan to build 325 homes clustered on a portion of historic Doughoregan Manor was unanimously approved Thursday by the Howard County Planning Board.
"It's one more step," said Joseph Rutter, the former county planning director who is guiding the project through the county's rezoning system for the descendants of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Some Carroll descendants still live in the mansion on the 892-acre Ellicott City property -- once a Colonial estate of more than 10,000 acres. The 325 new homes are part of a plan to preserve most of the nearly three-century-old estate.
Critics of the plan, several of whom attended the board meeting, were not pleased with the outcome.
"They completely ignored all our advice about a million-gallon [wastewater] treatment plant. This is a major imposition on our environment," said Charles Staples, who lives near the estate's eastern boundary.
Opponents also have complained that the Carroll development project would increase traffic in the area and would require millions of dollars in public services while the public remains barred from the county's only National Historic Landmark.
Rutter has said the developer would pre-treat wastewater from Doughoregan and other nearby developments to remove nitrogen before allowing it to flow to the county's only treatment plant in Savage.
The County Council will get the final say on the board's recommendation to allow public water and sewer lines to serve the new homes, while the council members sitting as the county Zoning Board must separately approve the rezoning, which the Planning Board also recommended.
The key to the rezoning is a proposed change in the county's General Plan to allow public water and sewer service for the new homes. That service now ends at the estate's eastern border, though several sewer pipes run under the property to serve nearby communities north of Doughoregan. If the utilities are allowed, the Planning Board said it would require a change from the property's current rural zoning.
Meanwhile, the Carrolls have proposed to spell out guarantees they would make to the county and the community in a formal Developer's Rights and Responsibilities Agreement. The County Council is considering a bill allowing such agreements.
The Carrolls have the right under current zoning to build about 400 homes on large lots using wells and septic systems throughout their property. Instead, they want the county to allow public utilities so they can push the new homes together on a rezoned section of about 200 acres in the northeast corner of the estate.
They are also asking to sell development rights to 500 acres, which would go into the county's Agricultural Preservation program, and have offered to donate 36 acres to the county to expand Kiwanis-Wallas Park on Frederick Road. Another 75 acres is already preserved, and the family wants to keep the rest surrounding the mansion and about 30 outbuildings.
If the plan is approved, the Carrolls stand to reap tens of millions of dollars that could be used to renovate and preserve the historic buildings and to maintain their private ownership of the estate, which they have always zealously shielded from public view.
The manor sits between Frederick Road, which would be the main entrance to the development, and Route 108. Folly Quarter Road is the western boundary. The land the Carrolls want to develop borders existing suburban housing developments that line the west side of Centennial Lane. Erickson Retirement Communities was hoping to build a 2,000-unit retirement community there, but backed out last summer because of the recession.
The four Planning Board members appeared to have little trouble with the decision, despite strong community opposition.
"It's a unique set of circumstances," said Linda Dombrowski, the board's chairwoman.
"The big picture shows this is not just serving one need," said board member Tammy Citaramanis. "It will benefit the Carrolls, but also the county."
"It's preserving the historic nature of the property," said David Grabowski, another board member.
Paul Yelder objected to characterizing the plan as Smart Growth, but said it is a better option than having homes widely scattered. "This may be good development, but it's not Smart Growth. Suburban sprawl is not Smart Growth," he said.
The board then found that moving the utilities is consistent with the county's General Plan. And recommending the zoning change seemed almost automatic if the utilities are extended, board members said.
"You have to change the zoning" if the property gets public utilities, Grabowski said, because the current rural zoning would become inappropriate.
The board members agreed with residents that Burnside Drive, which now dead-ends at Doughoregan, should never become an entrance to the new development. Rutter has offered to donate a small parcel to the Chateau Ridge Lake Community Association to help ensure that.
Dombrowski said no future council is likely to vote to open the road. "It is obvious the opening of Burnside is a political third rail, and no politician would consider doing that," she said.