Planners begin countywide zoning review

Agencies take next steps in carrying out PlanHoward 2030

January 24, 2013|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

The patch of green on Montgomery Road across from the Long Gate Shopping Center in Ellicott City stands out amid the asphalt, stores and homes.

Behind a few small wood-frame houses and garages, these nearly eight acres could almost be a suburban park, with a few trees and a small playground next to Bethel Baptist Church.

It's not a park, though, and it's not public property. What it will become remains to be seen.

Its future has been argued previously and will apparently be argued again in the months to come as county planners and members of the County Council redraw the county's zoning map, last revised on a wide scale in 2004 and 2005.

Landowners have filed 133 requests for new zoning on property ranging from less than an acre up to about 90 acres, with most under five acres. Still to come are proposals from the county Department of Planning and Zoning and the Planning Board, both for changes to specific properties and the rules that apply to many properties

The effort is part of the next steps in carrying out PlanHoward 2030, the master plan for growth adopted last year. After hearings by the Planning Board and the County Council, the council is expected to take final votes on zoning changes by July.

As expected, the applications include one from the owners of the 66 acres in Cooksville that was once home to the Woodmont Academy, who plan to sell the land to an organization in Prince George's County that wants to build an Islamic center with a school and mosque.

Area residents at first reacted against the plan as it was described in the organization's newspaper, but Minhaj Hasan, a board member of the group, says plans are being scaled back in response to local comments.

The zoning request for that tract would make certain the property could continue to be used for an "institutional" purpose.

Also included among requests is one to allow a psychiatric treatment center on 58 acres in Ellicott City to be turned into multifamily housing, and a proposal to allow more intense development on 88 acres of rural land in Clarksville where the county has decided to extend water and sewer service.

There's a proposal to remove land from the original "New Town" Columbia zoning, a potentially significant precedent that planning director Marsha S. McLaughlin said is not likely to be supported by her agency.

Battles revisited

That eight-acre piece divided among six parcels on Montgomery Road is hardly among the largest properties in the mix, but community activist Grace Kubofcik, who lives near it, said "this was a major, major fight last time."

She's referring to years of neighborhood opposition to commercial development there that ended in 2004, when the County Council sided with residents and voted to allow the land to be used for homes. The council — which also serves as Howard's zoning board, makes final decisions on rezoning

That vote seemed to settle it, but now Triangle Montgomery Associates LLC, which owns most of the land, wants to reopen the discussion. Triangle's application says a portion of the land has an approved plan for townhouses, which it calls "the most productive use of the property under current zoning."

But the company says that won't best serve the area, and so Triangle is seeking to develop the property with restaurants and a pharmacy that would "meet the demands of the community. The development would provide a high class amenity area and community gathering place, and it would utilize the natural features of the site in an environmentally friendly manner," the application says.

Kubofcik said she and many of the residents have a different idea about what would best serve their needs.

"Commercial development, by its very nature, brings me more traffic than any other type of zoning," said Kubofcik, adding that rush-hour traffic is usually backed up along Montgomery to the intersection of U.S. 29.

She's also wondering about the potential traffic impact of changes to the Taylor Residential Treatment Center, a psychiatric hospital affiliated with the Sheppard Pratt Health System at College Avenue and New Cut Road, about a mile from where she lives.

The owners are asking for zoning that would allow up to 15 apartments or condominium units per acre on 19 of the 58 acres.

The zoning on that land now allows senior housing — which could produce more units per acre — and office parks. Joseph Rutter, of Land Design and Development in Ellicott City, representing the owners, said the change being requested would have less impact on the surrounding area than an office park, though he said specific details of the apartment proposal — including number of units, numbers of buildings and whether they would be rental units or condominiums — are not yet final.

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