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Kittleman vetoes zoning regulations change, calls for restarting zoning process

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman. (Jon Sham/Baltimore Sun Media Gro /)

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman vetoed legislation Friday that would have slashed the amount of commercial space required for some development units along Route 1, citing that the public and the zoning department did not have the opportunity to review significant changes to the bill.

The bill, which further reduces the amount of commercial space required for developments with more than 800 units from 70 to 20 square feet per acre for every residential unit in exchange for a fee-in-lieu, was passed by the County Council in a 3-2 vote on April 4. Council members Jen Terrasa and Greg Fox voted agains the bill.

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Developer Atapco Howard Square I Business Trust requested the zoning change because they say the current requirements undermine the redevelopment goals of the Route 1 corridor and the surrounding Corridor Activity Center district, creating commercial space that "will sit vacant and unoccupied," according to a zoning request submitted to the county.

If enacted, the changes would apply to Howard Square, a mixed used project southeast of Port Capital Drive in Elkridge; and Blue Stream, also in the Route 1 corridor. Fees would go into a fund managed by the Economic Development Authority to promote retail redevelopment in other areas.

In a letter to Council Chairman Calvin Ball, who introduced the measure on behalf of the developer, Kittleman said the council should restart the zoning change process given the bill was significantly changed without the benefit of feedback from the public and the zoning department.

"Despite the public opposition, the bill and any proposed amendments were not discussed at any Council work sessions," Kittleman wrote in a letter to Ball on Friday.

The bill, which was introduced on Jan. 10 and tabled on Feb.1, was not on the agenda for two work sessions in March, according to the council's records.

An amendment introduced on March 31 largely exempted moderate income housing from commercial development requirements, Kittleman said, and allowed developers to further reduce the amount of commercial space to 20 square feet per unit in exchange for a $50 fee for each square foot of reduced commercial space.

The amendment also carves further fee reductions based on a host of specific circumstances, like an $8-per-square-foot reduction for projects with over 25 percent of residential units with LEED platinum certification. That exception would apply for Howard Square, a 47-acre mixed housing development that includes 70,000 square feet of retail place and more than 1,000 residential units, according to the developer's website.

Ball said he was disappointed a "viable solution" in the form of an amended bill that was "the result of months of collaboration" was being denied.

"All sides, including the Administration, agreed that the current [corridor activity center] regulations would force developers to build empty commercial space and stunt revitalization along the Route One corridor," wrote Ball in a statement, adding the amendment was based on "numerous conversations about "realistic concepts."

Councilman Greg Fox, who voted against the bill, said the changes gave developers "a bailout" to skirt requirements with a fee reduced to "almost nothing."

"This was sold to us as a concept of mixed use," said Fox. "The next thing you know, the commercial [aspect] is pulled out from it. For me, some of these zones and decisions appear to be bait and switch and then it's too far down on the road to address concerns."

In a June 4, 2015 report, the zoning department recommended the original bill, so long as the proposed $50 fee was increased and a provision allowed fee reductions for developments that have less potential for commercial development based on their visibility and accessibility.

To override the veto, four of the five council members must once again vote in favor of the bill. Council members Jen Terrasa, Jon Weinstein and Mary Kay Sigaty were not available immediately for comment.

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