Planners' draft blueprint for growth in eastern county nears completion


The county's planners talk about mixed-use centers, environmentally sensitive development and more affordable housing, but the comprehensive rezoning of the county's populous eastern half -- set to begin next month -- will go beyond terminology to form a 20-year blueprint for growth in Howard.

The final map of the county's rural western half has already been determined by the County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board, and will be formalized in a written order by council members next month.

A first draft of the Department of Planning and Zoning's eastern rezoning petition should be ready next week, said Marsha McLaughlin, the department's deputy director. The formal petition is expected to be approved by County Executive Charles I. Ecker and submitted to the Planning Board in late September, she said.

"We're hoping to get the first wave of [public] hearings done this fall," she said, referring to mandatory public comment forums before both the Planning Board, which makes recommendations on the plan, and the Zoning Board, which approves the final document. "We would imagine, given the complexity, that there's apt to be a second wave of hearings."

That second round of hearings could be triggered by rezoning requests introduced by land owners during the hearings or the council's decision to make major changes to the petition prepared by the Zoning Department.

Ms. McLaughlin urged land owners or developers to submit rezoning requests now.

Among comprehensive rezoning's major changes will be the adoption of a new zoning district, designated for mixed use. The definition of a mixed-use center, hotly debated during 1990 General Plan hearings, emerged as a point of contention in an individual zoning case.

Proponents of Waverly Woods II, a proposed 682-acre residential, commercial and golfing village in Marriottsville, say it is an example of the kind of mixed-use center envisioned in the General Plan. Critics say mixed use hasn't yet been defined, and the plans are premature.

Board Chairman C. Vernon Gray has asked that the petition be re-evaluated by Planning and Zoning staff in light of the new definition, which generally combines businesses, shops and apartments.

The General Plan map shows mixed-use areas straddling Interstate 70 at the Waverly site, along I-95 between Route 216 and Gorman Road, and between Route 175 and the Guilford area. Other areas include the Ellicott City neighborhood bounded by I-70, Route 99, and U.S. highways 29 and 40; a southern Ellicott City area between the future Route 100 and Route 108 at the planned extension of Snowden River Parkway; and the area between Fulton and U.S. 29 between Route 216 and Johns Hopkins Road.

The new zoning classification would also include Columbia's Town Center and Ellicott City's Main Street area, which already contain a mix of commercial and residential properties.

The second major change planners are working on involves expansion of the residential-environmental development zoning district.

The zoning category was created in 1982 as a substitute for half-acre R-20 residential lots in environmentally sensitive areas around Ellicott City. The category allows clustering on smaller lots to preserve larger open-space areas along stream valleys and steep slopes.

Comprehensive rezoning would convert more land to residential-environmental use along the Patapsco River in Ellicott City and Elkridge, as well as in North Laurel between the Little Patuxent River and the Hammond Branch.

The third major change in the eastern county's zoning map will involve changing some of the abundant planned office/research (POR) zoned property to high-density residential zoning.

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