Maple Lawn

Residents Christine Pereira and Paul Spelman are opposed to land owner Gene Iager's plans to use an almost 100 acre parcel of his land for development. They are standing in Pereira's backyard, with the parcel of land under consideration just past her lawn. (Gene Sweeney Jr. / Baltimore Sun / May 22, 2013)

Gene Iager and Chris Pereira live on opposite sides of Scaggsville Road in Fulton, and take conflicting views of a 91-acre expanse of grass and woods that lies between them.

Iager looks out his front window and across the road at the land and sees a future development of apartments, townhouses and single-family homes that would let his farming family cash in on years of hard work, while also suiting the goals of local and state planners.

Pereira looks at the green field out her back door and sees a potential suburban mess — what she believes will be too many people on too little land, generating more traffic than roads can handle, packing schools and spilling runoff into a stream that runs through the property not far from Triadelphia Reservoir.

Their argument about the proposal, known as Maple Lawn South, has unfolded in recent months, as Howard County planners work to update zoning designations to follow goals of PlanHoward 2030, a county master plan adopted last summer. Department of Planning staff and the Planning Board have made their recommendations; final votes are expected to be taken this summer by the County Council.

Pereira's group, Voters for Common-Sense Growth, has hired an attorney, collected nearly 1,200 petition signatures, written emails to county officials, met with planners and developers and is planning a rally on Saturday near the Maple Lawn South site to oppose Iager's zoning change request.

Each side in the dispute accuses the other of presenting a distorted view of the proposal.

Iager and his attorney, William E. Erskine, said opponents exaggerate the potential harm; Pereira's group says the would-be developers are vastly understating it.

Under current zoning, Iager could build about 40 single-family houses. He's asking for a change that would allow 15 housing units an acre — about 1,365 units overall if all 91 acres are buildable.

But Iager says he does not want that many units, though the exact number has not been determined.

Pereira said the ambiguity gives her no comfort.

"It doesn't make sense," said Pereira. "It's very, very dense. Much too dense for this town, for the population, for everything."

Combined with addition development at the original Maple Lawn, which is across Route 216 (Scaggsville Road), she said residents fear Iager's project could cause school overcrowding, meaning it could be necessary to redraw school boundaries.

Voters for Common-Sense Growth has offered an alternative that would allow up to two housing units per acre, bar rental apartments and require half the property be set aside as open space.

"What a waste of land," Iager said.

He recalled similar protests over the Maple Lawn project years ago. Built on more than 600 acres of Iager family land on the north side of Scaggsville Road, the development is now roughly half-completed, with 780 units in town-houses, condominiums and single-family homes, and nearly 800,000 square feet of office and commercial space.

It's all part of what was once a 1,200-acre expanse, a farming tradition started by Iager's great-great-grandfather in the 1830s.

Time to grow?

Asked why the family now also wants to sell the 91 acres on the south side of the road, Iager said the time is right.

He said he can't see how he and his older brother, Charles, and their families can continue farming as they have been, although they do intend to keep a 108-acre dairy and turkey farm on the north side of Scaggsville.

"We've always been land-rich and money-poor," said Gene Iager, 66. "So what do you do? So when is the right time?"