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Bill to expand scenic buffer could affect housing development in North Laurel

Bill to expand scenic buffer could affect housing development in North Laurel
Advocates worry the development will further exacerbate flooding in the area. This image was taken on June 28, 2016, after a rainstorm. (Courtesy photo / John Beck)

Three Howard County councilwomen earlier this month filed legislation that would increase the buffer on scenic roads from 35 feet to 100 feet between existing forests or wooded areas near the road and a new development.

The bill is intended to keep the aura and feel of scenic roads throughout the county, said Councilwomen Deb Jung, Christiana Mercer Rigby and Liz Walsh in a press release.

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The expansion is applauded by Stu Kohn, president of the Howard County Citizens Association, who recommended lawmakers further amend the bill to bar the destruction of “existing mature trees or digging of any kind on scenic roads due to the need of utilities for any proposed developments within the immediate area,” he said, citing a proposed development in North Laurel.

The Milk Producers Cooperative Association has proposed placing 397 units on a plot of land adjacent to its factory in North Laurel. Citing the decline of dairy consumption, tariffs on dairy exports and expanding debt, association CFO Joe Cowell in his testimony described the proposed bill as an “attempt to change the rules and will severely hamper our ability to grow and survive.”

The company has been in the county for 70 years, and Cowell said the 120 acres are “an important piece of our financial plan.”

Cowell said the company “will not be able to pay down our debt. We will not be able to expand our local milk production.”

Cowell asked lawmakers to either vote against the bill or to grandfather in their development.

Opponents, however, believe the amount of proposed units will have significant impacts on the surrounding communities, “including increased flash flooding, overcrowding of schools, pedestrian and traffic safety, and environmental issues that will diminish the quality of life of our community,” read a letter addressed to Howard County Executive Calvin Ball from a group called North Laurel Community Advocates in a petition online.

They took issue with a proposed traffic circle on Gorman Road. The circle, which would be the second on the road, would create an “unending flow of traffic,” the letter says.

The petition requesting a reduction in density of the development has received at least 3,000 signatures as of Tuesday. The petition is addressed to Ball and Department of Planning and Zoning Director Val Lazdins.

A final sketch of what the development might look like is expected later this month.

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