By Luke Lavoie, firstname.lastname@example.org
6:45 AM EDT, June 19, 2013
After months of waiting, members of Voters for Common Sense Growth, an organization opposed to the proposed rezoning of 91 acres in Maple Lawn to high-density residential, presented their case to the Howard County Council at a hearing earlier this week.
"They are passionate and organized, and certainly have given us something to look at," said Council Chair Jen Terrasa following more than 90 minutes of testimony on June 17.
The hearing was one of four the County Council scheduled on comprehensive zoning, a once in a decade process that allows land owners and the Department of Planning and Zoning an expedited avenue for zoning changes. The property at issue, known as Maple Lawn South, is located south of Route 216 and west of Route 29 and is owned by Gene Iager, whose family has owned Maple Lawn Farms for 174 years.
Iager, and his attorney Bill Erskine, have requested a portion of Iager's farmland be zoned R-A-15, which would allow 15 housing units per acre for a maximum total of 1,395 units. The Department of Planning and Zoning has backed the developer's request, while the Planning Board has recommended a split zone that proposes R-A-15 on one half of the property and a lower density zone, R-ED, on the other half.
The Planning Board's proposal would allow for a maximum of 850 housing units to be built.
Despite Iager's stated intentions of developing less than 1,000 apartment units on the property, the zoning change has ignited a fervor among local residents, which culminated in the June 17 public hearing.
"It's tough, it's frustrating. And I share their frustration," said Council member Greg Fox, whose district includes Fulton and Maple Lawn.
"That was not just showing up to testify. They have spent all this time and money as a community. That was organized, thoughtful testimony."
The presentation, which included three videos produced by Voters for Common Sense Growth, emphasized the potential hazardous effects on the environment, perceived conflicts with Council-approved PlanHoward 2030, the implications on school overcrowding and increased traffic patterns.
"I do not understand how the Planning Board and Department of Planning and Zoning can recommend a zoning for R-A-15 for this parcel," said Fulton resident Mara Feedman.
Chris Pereira, a Fulton resident and one of the leaders of the group, said the organization would ideally like the zoning to remain R-R, or rural residential, which allows for single-family homes on large plots of land.
However, the group, which has amassed more than 1,300 petition signatures, would be willing to accept R-ED zoning, a lower density zone, for the entire property.
Fox, the lone Republican on the Council, said he plans to file legislation that would remove the 91-acre parcel from the Planned Service Area in PlanHoward 2030, effectively making it more difficult for the property to change zones.
Fox also plans to introduce amendments to the comprehensive zoning plan that would further limit the development options for land like Maple Lawn, which was originally included in the PSA to "achieve Chesapeake Bay restoration goals."
According to Terrasa, the council is scheduled to address the proposed zoning change during work sessions this week. The earliest the council can vote on comprehensive zoning is July 1, although it will most likely be voted on at the July 25 meeting.
"Zoning is about people and their neighborhoods," Terrasa said about the comprehensive zoning process. "How will this impact somebody's daily existence? It's not just numbers on a page. It's about people and the community. That's why it needs special attention."
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