The county zoning board has set aside three nights in late March to receive testimony on the administration's petition to comprehensivelyrezone western Howard County.

Unlike the county's new adequate facilities ordinance, which the zoning board sitting as the County Council approved with virtually no alteration last week, the zoning department's proposals may be substantially amended.

The planning department proposes to make cluster development the centerpiece of its plan to rezone 49,579 rural acres still uncommitted to development.

In order to keep new development as close as possible to existing development, western Howard would be divided into rural residential and rural conservation districts.

Cluster development would be encouraged in portions of the residential district and required on parcels of 20 acres or more in the conservation district.

The cluster option would allow developers to build at a density of one house per five gross acres and cluster them on 33,000-square-foot lots (approximately three-fourths of an acre each) if the lots share a septic system. Shared septic systems would be maintained by the county.

Clustered lots that don't share a septic system would be aminimum of 40,000 square feet, or slightly less than an acre. An

acre is 43,560 square feet. The maximum lot size in a clustered development would be 60,000 square feet or 1.4 acres.

Current zoning --one house per three acres -- would continue in non-clustered developments. Every subdivision, whether clustered or not, would have to keep 5 percent of the acreage as open space or pay a fee.

The proposal would add a commercial zoning classification allowing agricultural businesses such as blacksmithing, mulch manufacture and farm machinery sales and service to develop at a specific location.

Public hearings are scheduled for 8 p.m. in the county office building March 19,24 and 31. Representatives of the planning office will be present anhour early March 19 and 31 to answer questions. Testimony will be limited to five minutes.

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