Marlene Conaway remembers Sykesville from her childhood as a typicalsmall town where residents came to buy their clothes, groceries, tools -- whatever they needed for themselves and their homes.

At Monday night's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Conaway, the assistant county director of planning, showed slides of the things that define that small-town character of Sykesville: the train trestle over Spout Hill Road, roofs and chimneys of homes, hills and valleys, the Patapsco River, trees and other natural vegetation, and, of course, historic buildings like the train station.

Conaway and County Planner Helen M. Spinelli-Taille told the commission how it could preserve the town's unique flavor through a new type of zoning.

"Your master plan has those unique characteristics,and performance zoning can help the town keep them," Spinelli-Taillesaid.

Performance zoning is different from traditional zoning in that topographic features are considered in development, rather than such regulations as minimum variances.

"We've been so concerned with the technical aspects of zoning that we've forgotten the town," Conaway said.

When a development is planned, the town should "determine what is valuable, then try to preserve it," she said.

The natural characteristics of the topography should be considered, she said,including the slope of the land, vegetation, impact on views, open spaces and natural resources.

Conaway also noted that all the town's characteristics need to considered, not just the development site, if the town's character is to be preserved.

"Knowing ahead of timewhat's important gives you something to talk about with the developer," Conaway said. "You can do things differently from the way you're doing them now if you know what you want."

Jonathan Herman, commission chairman, told the planners the town is trying to re-evaluate its master plan and hopes to have better guidelines set up for developers when building picks up again. Development has been slowed in recent months because of the lagging economy, he said.

In other business, the commission discussed problems that have arisen from a report the town engineer, Robert Bond, made concerning the proposed Jamaka Heights development.

Benjamin E. Grubbs has asked permission to build two duplexes on property he owns on Oklahoma Road. He originally submitted plans for the four homes in the mid-1980s, but the project was delayed by a family member's illness. Grubbs now wants to go ahead with building.

But Bond recommended the preliminary plans not be approved after he found a safety problem with parking. Bond said that having vehicles park on Oklahoma Road and then backing out into the roadway "is not considered a safe condition and is generally not allowed."

After some discussion, the commission approved Grubbs' project on condition that he redesign the parking and a retaining wall and submit a landscaping plan.

"We just don't want it on our heads that we allowed a dangerous situation," Herman said in requesting the conditions.

Grubbs and the project's engineer, Leon A. Podolak, saidthey would meet the conditions and resubmit corrected plans.

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