Howard Council to consider comprehensive zoning amendments

The Howard County Council voted Monday, July 1, to consider more than 30 late-filed amendments to the county's comprehensive zoning bill.

The vote was the next step in the comprehensive zoning process, which happens once a decade and allows members of the public to request re-zoning of their property for any reason.

The process comes on the heels of the latest update to the county's general plan, PlanHoward 2030, which was adopted last fall and outlines the county's future economic, environmental and quality-of-life goals.

By law, the Council needed to vote on late-filed amendments to the comprehensive zoning bill in order to stay on schedule for a final vote July 25, before it breaks for August recess.

Amendments submitted by property owners after last year's Dec. 14 deadline for zoning map and regulation changes had to receive approval from four of five Council members to be considered.

The Council has scheduled two hearing dates — July 15 at 3:30 p.m. and July 16 at 6:30 p.m.— for community members to testify on any of the amendments. Both hearings will be held in the Banneker room of the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

All 56 amendments under consideration will be posted to the Council's website.

Council member Calvin Ball said he and the other members were committed to "a thorough deliberation" of the amendments. "We tabled the bill," he said, "so we can take another month to be thoughtful."

Council member and Zoning Board chair Courtney Watson echoed Ball. "We really want to get everything right now so that there won't be problems later," she said.

Started in October of last year, the comprehensive zoning process has the potential to change a number of areas throughout the county.

Controversial zoning requests up for debate at the hearings later this month include the Maple Lawn South and Savage community proposals.

The Maple Lawn South proposal seeks to develop farmland opposite Reservoir High School on Route 216 in Fulton. Landowner Gene Iager would like to transform the plot into a residential zone that would include apartments, townhomes and single-family lots, but neighbors oppose increasing the density of the community.

In Savage, a newly created zoning designation would allow townhouses to be built on land that was formerly zoned as a B-1 business district and whose owner was requesting RA-15 residential zoning. Community members are concerned that a new neighborhood would bring traffic congestion, school overcrowding and environmental issues to the area.

River Hill Garden Center

Before the legislative session Monday, a half-dozen River Hill community members showed up to a Council work session to oppose zoning that could bring new businesses to the River Hill Garden Center on Route 108.

The B-1 zoning, which was approved two years ago, would allow owners Steve and Cathy Klein to add businesses, such as a café and a bank, to their property to supplement the garden center's income.

Steve Klein said his goal in bringing new businesses onto his lot is "to sustain the garden center." But some members of the adjoining community say they are concerned about the potential for increased noise and traffic that would accompany multiple businesses.

The community members, most of whom live on Whistling Winds Walk, behind the garden center, were hoping that the Council would add an amendment to the comprehensive zoning bill preventing the center from adding new businesses. But they could not convince a super-majority of the Council to consider such an amendment. However, the Council urged Klein to listen to any community concerns.

Neighbor Melissa Purdue said she hasn't seen much effort from Klein to include the community in his plans, which she says have changed since his initial proposal. "It's kind of a slippery slope where you give approval for one thing and then he adds and changes it," she said, citing an initial promise not to cut down any trees that later changed to a vow not to cut down "mature trees."

"After the fact, if Mr. Klein wants to have discussions with the community, the damage has been done. In effect, we have a strip mall in our backyard."

But Klein's attorney, Bill Erskine, said his client is serious about involving the community in the development process. "We're very empathetic to the concerns raised by the community and have made it very clear that we expect that the garden center will redevelop in a way that is sensitive to the community," Erskine said.

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