An 11-mile stretch of Route 1 from Elkridge to the Prince George's County line has been a target for revitalization since Howard County adopted its 2000 General Plan.
While the county "feels good" about some of the things being accomplished along the corridor, according to director of Planning and Zoning Marsha McLaughlin, Route 1 figures to receive more attention during the ongoing comprehensive zoning process.
McLaughlin said the hope is for the zoning changes, combined with a proposed tax incentive for commercial redevelopment, to encourage corporate employment properties to reinvest in themselves. But she cautioned it is a long process.
"We're still in the early stages of Route 1 being redeveloped. It's a lot of ground. It's a lot of territory," she said. "It's going to take 20 years, 30 years, we don't know."
Howard County is in the midst of the comprehensive zoning process, which follows every update of the county's general plan. It offers the county an opportunity to begin implementing the vision laid out in the general plan, PlanHoward 2030, while allowing the county to review its zoning regulations and citizens to submit zoning requests.
Zoning requests are now in front of the county Planning Board for consideration with the first public hearing scheduled for March 27 at 6 p.m. in the Banneker Room at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. A second Planning Board hearing is scheduled for April 8 at 6 p.m. in the Glenelg High School auditorium.
More than 50 of the 206 requests for a change in zoning are along Route 1. The Department of Planning and Zoning also has proposed the creation of the Commercial Redevelopment (CR) Overlay District, intended to "encourage parcel consolidation and redevelopment chiefly for commercial uses" along Route 1.
The county's vision is to consolidate parcels along Route 1 for redevelopment. One example is a 14-acre combination of parcels in Elkridge near the corner of Route 1 and Dorsey Road that includes the Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park and U.S. 1 Auto Auction.
The property is currently zoned for warehouse and light industrial uses.
Joe Rutter, owner of the Ellicott City development firm Land Design and Development, has requested the Corridor Activity Center (CAC) zoning for the property on behalf of the late owner's estate because of the residential aspect and flexibility for retail uses.
Rutter said this zoning would give the property "vibrancy" and open the door for mixed-use development.
"We'd like a zoning district that is viable and will make it attractive to redevelop," he said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Planning and Zoning is advising the County Council and Planning Board to hold off on tackling changes to the New Town zoning until after the comprehensive zoning process.
"Our feeling toward New Town is the regulations need to be modified, but you've got almost 100,000 people living in Columbia," McLaughlin said. "It isn't going to be a short and simple conversation."
The county is proposing a market study on how Columbia should evolve and a workgroup to consider potential amendments to the New Town zoning district.
McLaughlin said there is no time frame on launching the study, but the goal is for it to happen "fairly soon."
In addition to the multitude of zoning requests along Route 1, the Department of Planning and Zoning has proposed regulations that would make the county more "farmer friendly" and create two additional new zoning districts.
Zoning amendments proposed by the county are intended to make the county friendlier to farmers by simplifying procedures and allowing more flexibility in allowed uses on agricultural property.
One proposal would allow up to two-percent of a farm property be used for "farm supporting" activities, such as a bed and breakfast or other "home-based occupations."
"It creates more income coming into the farm to help support the farm family," McLaughlin said.
Two new zoning districts could be created during comprehensive zoning. The county is proposing the creation of the Business Rural Crossroads (BRX) district, intended to enable rural commercial crossroads to improve and expand, and the R-A-25 district, which would allow for higher density apartments in "select, appropriate locations."
McLaughlin said the county has only two potential locations for the R-A-25 zoning, including the corner of Route 108 and Old Columbia Road in Columbia.
"There's probably six or seven properties there. When you have to buy six or seven people's properties and assemble a site that is a decent size, it's going to cost a lot of time and money," McLaughlin said. "To do that for low density development doesn't make any sense."