Council votes administration's proposal for western rezoning


The County Council sitting as the Zoning Board quietly concluded its comprehensive rezoning of the western portion of the county last week, accepting the administration's proposal virtually intact.

The board considered 96,000 acres previously zoned rural -- no more than one house per three acres -- and applied new zoning to 27,000 acres. The new zoning will yield 5,500 dwelling units -- about the same number as the old zoning.

Following the vote approving the new zoning last Wednesday night, the Zoning Board had compliments for everyone, including themselves.

"I want to thank [planning director] Joe Rutter and his staff for an outstanding job," said board Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-4th. "It was a yeoman task."

"I hope the comprehensive rezoning of the east is as smooth," said Mr. Gray.

The board created two new zoning categories, rural conservation and rural residential, and accepted the concept of clustered development. Clustering is mandatory in the rural conservation district on all parcels of 20 acres or more.

Clustering can occur at one house per 4.25 acres. Property owners who cluster will be allowed an extra dwelling unit on the unclustered portion if the undeveloped remainder of the property is 25 acres or more.

John W. Taylor, president of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth and a frequent critic of the comprehensive rezoning proposal, said the clustering change from one house per 5 acres to one house per 4.25 acres will result in 1,700 to 1,800 additional homes.

"A Columbia village is 2,000 to 2,200 people," he said. "This change has the effect of adding another Columbia village. To call a compromise gives me heartburn."

The new zoning approved Wednesday includes a so-called density exchange option designed to preserve land in the rural conservation zone and to allow more intense development in the rural residential zone.

The density exchange option works like this: A developer wanting to develop more houses per acre than normally allowed could purchase an easement on property in the rural conservation zone. The easement would keep the conservation zone property from being developed. The property kept from development is called a sending parcel. The property with more intense development is called a receiving parcel.

Sending parcels can only be located in the rural conservation zone. Any unencumbered piece of property in the rural $l conservation zone that contains at least 50 contiguous acres and is made up of parcels of 20 acres or more can become a sending parcel.

Parcels of any size in the rural residential zone or parcels of 50 acres or less that are 60 percent surrounded by development in the rural conservation zone may become receiving parcels.

County officials estimate that by combining clustering and the density exchange option with the county's agricultural land preservation program, an additional 14,000 rural acres could be kept out of development. The preservation program has already excluded 13,000 acres.

The new zoning also creates a floating business zone for parcels with appropriate road access and compatibility with surrounding land uses.

Homeowners are allowed to convert part of their house to an apartment. Home occupations are allowed for businesses with two employees or less provided the business uses no more than 800 square feet or 33 percent of the floor area, whichever is less.

Farms of greater than 50 acres will be allowed minor commercial uses such as blacksmithing, welding and machinery repair. Yard-waste composting, mulch manufacture and rubble land fills are permitted as special exceptions. Home-based contracting is allowed as an accessory use. Sports businesses -- driving ranges, batting cages, miniature golf -- are no longer allowed.

Sheds of 100 square feet or less no longer have to be set back from the property line, but buildings housing farm animals must be set back 200 feet.

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