Howard Co. officials anticipate resistance to moderate housing


Although large numbers of middle-income families are being priced out of the Howard County housing market, elected officials predicted yesterday that many residents will attack a proposal to rezone land for thousands of town houses and apartments.

"I see a lot of resistance to town houses and apartments," said Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd.

Mr. Gray supports the recommendations of a 13-member housing task force, which said Tuesday night that teachers, sales clerks, police officers and other people who earn less than $60,000 a year cannot afford to buy a house in Howard County.

The task force urged the council to rezone enough land to build 1,000 apartments and town houses per year over the next 20 years -- far more than the 267 housing units called for in the county's 1990 General Plan. Unless Howard acts quickly, the task force warned, it will become an elitist enclave of affluent, older people.

But that vision of the future may bother Howard County residents far less than the prospect of high-density growth, County Executive Charles I. Ecker acknowledged.

"Whenever there's a poll taken, affordable housing is a very low priority for people in the county," said Mr. Ecker, who requested the task force report. "There may be a lot of opposition."

Nevertheless, he has asked the county's planning and zoning office to determine how much land is zoned for multifamily housing and to list commercial or industrial tracts that could be rezoned for high-density residential development.

The task force also recommended a moderate-priced housing program similar to Montgomery County's.

The program would require developers of 40 or more housing units to set aside at least 10 percent of them for people making $20,000 to $35,000 a year. The county also would permit developers to build up to 20 percent more housing on their land as long as 50 percent of those "bonus" units were moderately priced.

Mr. Gray said he already is working on a moderate-priced housing plan to present to the council. He also supports rezoning land for apartments, town houses or mobile homes in a county where the average town house costs $168,000 and the average single-family home exceeds $210,000.

But Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, said any plan to rezone land for high-density housing must overcome the powerful anti-growth sentiments of many residents.

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