Marriottsville church seeking zoning change for townhouse development

Another proposed Community Enhancement Floating zone development is coming on the heels of Simpson Oaks, according to the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

In Marriottsville, Chapelgate Presbyterian Church has plans to request CEF zoning approval for a church expansion, construction of town houses and other enhancements to its 61.8-acre property.

The church, located across from Turf Valley on Marriottsville Road, is proposing a 134-unit town house development, a new chapel for worship – services are currently conducted in the church's multipurpose room – and additions to the property, such as a public bike and pedestrian path, a pavilion, tennis courts and a playground, according to DPZ Director Marsha McLaughlin.

The church would also like to create a small "community commercial area" at the property's entrance, where there might be produce sales in the summer and Christmas displays in the winter, according to McLaughlin.

There will be a community meeting about the proposal on Wednesday, March 5 at 7 p.m. in the George Howard county government complex in Ellicott City.

Created in 2012, the CEF zone is one of the newest options for landowners looking to develop property.

The district's intent is "to encourage the creative development and redevelopment of commercial and residential properties through flexible zoning," according to county zoning guidelines.

McLaughlin said it adds another tool for the county's Zoning Board – which consists of the five County Council members – and landowners to consider "creative" projects.

"It was passed before comprehensive zoning" – a once-in-a-decade re-examination of the county's zoning laws and districts – "because we wanted there to be an option for the council if they weren't sure what to do with a zoning request," McLaughlin said.

The council finalized the most recent comprehensive zoning process on July 25, 2013.

The creation of the CEF district was not without controversy.

According to Howard County Times reports from 2012, some county residents said they opposed the new zone because they felt it gave too much power to developers and not enough opportunities for neighboring communities to raise concerns.

The final CEF zoning guidelines were amended to require an initial meeting for citizens and the Zoning Board to ask questions about a preliminary development plan, as well as a presubmission community meeting after a detailed plan has been prepared.

A property may be eligible for CEF zoning if it's located within the county's planned service area for both water and sewer service and is a plot of 5 acres or more.

A piece of land zoned for heavy industrial, transit-oriented development or mixed use or for a planned golf course community may not become part of a CEF district. Areas in downtown Columbia zoned for New Town development are also excluded.

While the CEF district doesn't permit certain uses, such as night clubs, funeral homes, motor vehicle facilities and bus terminals, among others, it allows all uses permitted as a matter of right in residential, office and business districts.

Developers are required to add at least one community enhancement that exceeds minimum zoning standards and that is free and open to the public.

Traditionally, rezoning decisions have to wait until the comprehensive zoning process. Piecemeal rezoning – decisions that occur outside of comprehensive zoning – has previously only been permitted in the event of a zoning error or change in the area's character.

McLaughlin said those requirements were sometimes too strict.

"It's really hard to come in a year after comprehensive zoning and say something magical has changed – it's a very hard test," she said. "And sometimes a creative solution that's a really good idea comes along, and it's failed."

Of the CEF district, she said: "The intent was to allow a lot more flexibility."

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