Howard Planning Board votes to approve Maple Lawn South sketch plans

Howard County's Planning Board approved preliminary sketch plans for a residential development at Maple Lawn South during a special meeting Tuesday night.

The meeting was scheduled after opponents of the development requested an opportunity to testify at the board's regular session June 18.


The vote represents a step forward for the Maple Lawn South project, which has been in the works for more than year. The development would bring 176 single-family detached homes to a 91-acre plot of land across the street from Reservoir High School in Fulton.

The proposed development would be right down the road from the town houses, restaurants and shops of Maple Lawn, a separate project that is about three-quarters of the way finished.

Both communities are being planned on farmland formerly owned by the Iager family, who still run a nearby turkey farm. Opponents of the Maple Lawn South project argue, however, that the property was never properly incorporated into the planned service area, which connects land to public water and sewer lines that can support larger developments.

"This project is not legitimately in the planned service area of this county," Highland attorney and Maple Lawn South opponent Susan Gray told the board Tuesday. "If you don't have a property that has planned water and sewer, this project cannot happen."

Department of Planning and Zoning officials have said the planned service area was extended to incorporate Maple Lawn in a 2012 update to Howard County's General Plan, the master document guiding development priorities for the county, and confirmed in 2013 during the comprehensive rezoning process, a once-a-decade opportunity for developers and landowners to request zoning changes for any reason.

Gray began to present a slide show offering evidence for her claim, before Planning Board members decided it was not within their purview to revisit past zoning decisions.

"You are pointing fingers at a body that is not in this room," Planning Board Chair Bill Santos said. "You are talking about the council's actions and not the Planning Board's actions."

The three Planning Board members present Tuesday – Santos, Jacqueline Easley and Phil Engelke – voted unanimously to approve sketch plans for the development, which they said met the criteria of the residential environmental district, a zone that requires projects to take extra precautions so that they don't interfere with environmental or historical features on a property.

The sketch plans show that the development would avoid interfering with wetlands on the property, which is in the Patuxent River's watershed, except at one point where a pedestrian pathway is planned. An old farmhouse on the site dating back to the 1830s would not be preserved because it has been irreparably damaged by termites, according to testimony from an engineer hired to inspect the house.

Bill Erskine, an attorney representing the Maple Lawn South project, said the development showed respect for the environment as well as restraint on the density requested. The site's zoning allows for up to 198 units.

The property's developer, Murn Development, had initially requested a much higher zoning that would have allowed for high-density apartments on the site, though Murn maintained that concepts for the project would be limited to town houses and single family homes.

"The protestants couldn't utter a single word of protest about it," Erskine said Tuesday of the current plan.

Maple Lawn South opponents said they planned to continue their fight against the development.

"It just magnifies the lack of participation in county government," said Clarksville resident Alan Schneider, another Maple Lawn South opponent, of the Planning Board's decision not to hear presentations from him and Gray. "Transparency is one of the things that is advocated, and yet it is not being observed."


"There's all kinds of things that are left to do," said Gray, though she wouldn't specify what. "We'll see what happens."