The Anne Arundel County Council will consider zoning changes to parcels of land across the county beginning next month, a process that will likely take most of the year and begin with projects related to the federal military realignment plan expected to bring thousands of new residents and jobs to the region.
In an effort to prepare for the influx, the council plans to tackle the process of comprehensive rezoning incrementally, with legislators first considering rezoning applications in council districts 1 and 4. Those districts are in close proximity to Fort Meade and the National Security Agency — where the bulk of development relating to the Defense Department's base realignment and closure plan, or BRAC, is expected.
The process promises to be contentious — with developers and landowners clamoring for the ability to add new uses to their properties, which usually boosts values. Local residents resistant to development have begun organizing.
BRAC is expected to bring about 14,000 jobs to the Fort Meade area.
The developers of several large-scale projects in the Laurel area have applied for changes, including Arundel Gateway, a planned 1,600-home project where developers want to add commercial space; the National Business Park, an office complex of defense contractors that plans an expansion; and RiverWood, a 1,000-home development.
Dick Ladd, chairman of the County Council, predicted the rezoning process, which includes recommendations from the county's Office of Planning and Zoning, would stretch into the fall.
"It's a major muscle move for the county to go through this," said Ladd, a Republican. "We do this once every 10 years. It's one of those giant steps forward. The BRAC stuff will cause a fair amount of economic activity. We're hopeful for that."
The county has received 355 applications for zoning changes — ranging from homeowners seeking to add commercial zoning for their home to include an office, to the landowner of a vacant piece of property hoping to build a gas station.
Larry Tom, director of planning and zoning, said each application will be evaluated for compliance with the county's general development plan, most recently adopted in 2009, and the county's 16 small area plans. Tom plans to forward the county's recommendations to the council next month. Three separate bills will be introduced – the first for districts 1 and 2, and then bills for districts 2, 3 and 5, and for 6 and 7.
Ann Fligsten, coordinator of Growth Action Network of Anne Arundel County, a coalition of community groups following development issues, said she's organizing community groups to examine the applications and monitor the process.
"There's a lot of anticipation and excitement for folks that want to get their land up-zoned and make a bundle, pressure on the communities to follow the plan, pressure from people like me, a brand new council," said Fligsten. "It's really going to be interesting."
Tim Reyburn, president of the Russett Community Association and a member of the Growth Action Network, said he's concerned about how the proposed large-scale residential development projects will affect the value of current housing stock. Reyburn's also concerned that the new development wouldn't come with needed infrastructure, such as new schools and roadways.
"BRAC is a positive in the sense that you have people coming here and buying houses, so our houses are selling," said Reyburn, who said his recent home assessment was down 30 percent from three years ago. "If they build all this new development, we're going to have all these new homes, and not much demand. That's going to affect our housing values in a down economy."
Among the larger proposed projects, in District 4 Severna Park-based Polm Companies Ltd. has applied for a zoning change in order to construct a $300 million housing development of 1,000 homes, including 320 homes for middle-income homeowners.
Andrew P. Zois, president of Polm Cos., which has been working to develop the now vacant parcel on Brock Bridge Road since 2004 and recently sweetened the pot by agreeing to build a $23 million school to ease overcrowding in the area, said the process is the project's "last shot."
"At this point, I'm on as many pins and needles as the rest of the community out in West County in anticipation of this project being approved," Zois said. "I can't think of a better project, a better way to develop, a better part of the county or a better time in our economy to approve such an undertaking."
"It will help generations of children and work force homeowners."
County Executive John R. Leopold said a recent change in county law that more than doubles impact fees on development will ensure that developers and builders who are granted zoning changes "pay their fair share of the growth they create."
"My philosophy is that all 355 applicants should be treated with the same standards and same approach," Leopold said. "They'll all be treated the same. They all must be consistent with the general development plan."