By Blair Ames, firstname.lastname@example.org
6:30 AM EDT, April 23, 2013
Gene Iager can talk for hours about his family's history of farming in Fulton, which began in 1839, when his great-great-grandfather Henry R. Iager purchased the original 108-acre site for $225.
But while Iager, 66, speaks fondly of his family's heritage, he says he realized years ago that changing economics and regulations would prevent his family from always farming on the more than 1,000 acres that straddle Route 216.
"Nothing lasts forever," he said.
After beginning the Maple Lawn commercial and residential district 12 years ago, Iager wants to develop 91 acres across Route 216 from Reservoir High School. His plan is Maple Lawn South, a residential development consisting of apartments, single-family homes and townhouses.
He has applied through comprehensive zoning to change the property's zoning from rural residential to R-A-15, a zoning that allows 15 housing units per acre.
"In a perfect world, it would be nice to leave it all as farmland, but we have to be realistic and try to make good, smart economical decisions," Iager said. "The time has come for that land to be put to rest."
But, as happened to the proposal of the original Maple Lawn development, Iager's zoning request has upset nearby residents, who argue his plans will overburden schools and roadways, cause school redistricting, pollute the Patuxent Watershed and violate PlanHoward 2030.
"For him it's about millions and millions of dollars," said Fulton resident Jeff Regner. "For the rest of us, we have to live in the community he leaves behind."
Nearby residents have formed Smart Fulton Growth to oppose Iager's rezoning request. As of Monday, 711 had signed a petition opposing the rezoning request.
Iager disputes claims that he is just trying to cash in by developing another 91 acres of farmland. Instead, he said that he and his brother, Charles, are trying create a family legacy with Maple Lawn.
"We live here, we're going to see it, too," Iager said. "We won't do anything that we wouldn't be proud of."
He said his fear is that after he and his older brother die, the farmland would be sold off to different developers who could create a "hodge-podge" of development.
"This isn't like we just woke up and decided to do this," Iager said. "There were a lot of tears. We're emotionally invested in this."
The Planning Board is expected to make its recommendations on zoning requests to the County Council by the end of May. The council, which makes the final decision on zoning requests, is expected to deliberate on the requests in June and July and make its decision before the August recess.
Maple Lawn South
Signs reading "No! Apartments" and "Stop Fulton Apartments" have been posted along Route 216 in recent weeks, but Iager and his attorney, Bill Erskine, said residents are focusing on the smallest part of the project.
There are no plans to build 1,000 apartments, as had first been reported, although the R-A-15 zoning would allow it. Erskine said there is no market for that type of development.
Instead, preliminary designs for Maple Lawn South show apartment buildings in the area near the water tower, a collection of townhouses through the middle of the property and single-family homes abutting the homes on Murphy Road.
The majority of development is expected to be townhouses, but site developer Chris Murn said it is too early to estimate the total number of housing units.
Murn, president of Murn Development, said the rental units are a "small component" of the development, but they are expected to be upscale, similar to those at the Enclave in Emerson in Laurel.
There is no commercial development planned for Maple Lawn South, Murn said.
Despite the plan to include townhouses and single-family homes in the development, Fulton resident Chris Bloor said there is no guarantee that the development will look as it is proposed.
"There's no promise of anything on that plan," he said. "Once you have R-A-15, in my mind, it makes no sense to put single family homes there. The profit just isn't there."
Residents are concerned that the influx of new homes in Maple Lawn South and what is still left to be built in the original Maple Lawn development will force the Howard County Public School System to redistrict area students.
"Parents on these PTAs have invested the time in making (the schools) the best they can be and now they may find all of that effort pushed to the wayside," Regner said
The three schools across Route 216 from the proposed development — Fulton Elementary, Lime Kiln Middle and Reservoir High — are all operating under capacity, according to the school system's March enrollment figures.
A case of favoritism?
Attorney Katherine Taylor, who represents Smart Fulton Growth, said she was "quite surprised" when she first read the county's recommendation of R-A-15 zoning from rural residential.
"That's quite a significant difference in the number of units you can put on a parcel," she said.
Under the current zoning, Iager could only build one home for every three acres.
Murn said R-A-15 was requested for the Maple Lawn South because it is the only zoning that allows for apartments, single-family homes and townhouses.
Opponents to the rezoning proposal, like Fulton resident Paul Spelman, have pointed to the Maple Lawn water tower as evidence that the R-A-15 zoning is being considered as a favor to Iager.
Holding a copy of the deed to the three acres where the water tower stands, Spelman points to the third paragraph that states "in consideration of zero dollars" the county would acquire the land from Maple Lawn Farms Inc. in 2006.
"Certain things of this smack of favoritism," Spelman said.
Opponents also question why this 91-acre property, one of three properties brought into the Planned Service Area through PlanHoward 2030 last year, is the only one the Department of Planning and Zoning has recommended for R-A-15 zoning.
Taylor said the R-A-15 zoning is inconsistent with the property's recent designation in the PSA.
PlanHoward 2030 states that the three properties brought into the Planned Service Area were done so because of their location in the rural residential zone and the planned service area. The general plan states that they should be designed and zoned to establish a transition that is compatible with and enhances surrounding communities.
The three properties brought into the PSA should also "create an environmental benefit through environmental site design that mitigates impervious surfaces so that storm water will be captured on site and not affect nearby waterways," according to PlanHoward 2030.
"High density is typically less environmentally friendly," Taylor said.
Erskine said Maple Lawn South will be built to the highest stormwater standard because of Plan Maryland, the state's growth and development plan, enacted in 2011.
He estimated that Maple Lawn South will have "several hundred to 1,000" rain gardens to meet environmental regulations.
Erskine added that these environmental regulations will dictate how many units are built.
Erskine said what makes Maple Lawn South unique from the other two properties brought into the PSA is the infrastructure already in place.
He cites the nearby schools across the street, the Maple Lawn commercial district and the nearby commuter park and ride as reasons the proposed zoning is appropriate.
"It's not zoning for today, it's planning for the future," Erskine said.
A community meeting on the proposed Maple Lawn South is planned for May 7 at 7 p.m. at Erskine's office, 8171 Maple Lawn Boulevard, Suite 200.