Howard eyes high-density zoning plan 'Affordable' housing is 20-year goal


A draft Howard County housing plan proposes that the county adopt higher-density zoning to permit significantly more development of town houses and apartments for families earning $60,000 a year or less.

The plan, now in the final drafting stages, will be forwarded later this month to County Executive Charles I. Ecker. It is being devised by the county's Housing and Community Development Board and the Housing Commission.

The executive asked the citizen panels to develop a blueprint for creating more affordable housing in the affluent county.

Leonard S. Vaughan, the county's acting administrator of housing, said the plan as now proposed would call for up to 30,000 of the 50,000 homes slated for construction over the next 20 years to be "affordable" town house and apartment units.

He said Howard County expects to reach "build-out" by 2010, and the 13 members of the two housing panels believe the county must act quickly to generate a sufficient supply of moderate-cost housing.

Such a proposal would mark a major change in the county's land use. Many of the undeveloped lots in the east are now zoned for two units an acre. The minimum lot size in the west is three acres.

Under this proposal, 1,200 to 1,500 new apartment or town house units would be built a year over the next two decades.

Mr. Vaughan said the plan also recommends that the increased development "be dispersed county-wide." That provision should generate controversy in the semi-rural west, where residents have protested loudly against proposals of increased development in that area.

The county's housing administrator said the panels want Howard to adopt a "moderate priced dwelling unit" program similar to the one operating in neighboring Montgomery County. Under such a format, the zoning would require a builder to set aside 10 percent of the units in subdivisions of 40 units or more for moderate-priced housing. The builder would in turn receive a "bonus density" allowing up to 20 percent more houses on the tract.

According to Mr. Vaughan, the plan also calls for setting up a housing trust fund. The fund could make loans to developers to build affordable housing and help subsidize the cost of housing for the elderly and handicapped persons.

The fund would be built up when developers pay back up to $5 million in outstanding housing-related loans, Mr. Vaughan said. The fund would have the authority to borrow up to $10 million to acquire low- and moderate-income housing complexes when they come on the market.

Mr. Ecker said yesterday he was in favor of the moderate-priced dwelling unit proposal and said he had "an open mind" on increasing housing densities generally.

"We do have to provide incentives to builders to increase the percentage of low- and moderate-income housing, but I have no feeling on higher densities overall, although we do need more affordable housing," Mr. Ecker said. The executive noted that the zoning now provides for "only a few places where there is multi-family housing, and we are now looking at changing the zoning to implement the General Plan's goal of 2,500 units per year."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad