Proposed "environmental" zoning districts would encourage the development of environmentally sensitive property, Elkridge residents told a county zoning official last night.
"What you're telling us tonight is that if you live in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, move out, because we're going to develop it to the last square foot," said Jerry Fleischmann of Elkridge's historic downtown.
Mr. Fleischmann was among several people who voiced concern about development at last night's meeting in the new Elkridge Elementary School. About 30 people skipped presidential debate to hear about the county administration's proposal for comprehensive rezoning of eastern Howard.
The proposal would designate four major tracts of a new "mixed-use" zoning category, rezone three Ellicott City office/research tracts for apartment use and allow 682 rural acres in Marriottsville and Woodstock to be developed into a Columbia-style village. The largest change would put virtually all land along the Patapsco River, from Woodstock to Elkridge, into two new "residential-environmental development" zoning districts.
That concerns residents, who said the two new categories would make it easier to develop areas difficult to reach with sewer lines.
Mr. Fleischmann said steep slopes and other environmentally sensitive features now keep the land from being developed. But the new categories would allow developers to cluster homes on the fringes of environmentally sensitive areas.
However, Marsha McLaughlin, deputy county director of planning and zoning, said the problems keeping land undeveloped now would still exist under the new districts.
Asked what is driving the proposed zoning changes, which include rezoning some commercial areas for apartments, she said the county is trying to get the most efficient use out of increasingly scarce land.
"Why?" asked one woman repeatedly. "People are paying taxes and like it just the way it is."
Another citizen, Cordelia Hansen, said Elkridge residents have been "abused, pushed, shoved and people are getting tired of it."
Some residents said the character of their neighborhood is being lost to unchecked growth.
"Montgomery Road was a [tree-canopied] road less than 20 years ago," said Frank Harman, 64, who has lived there all his life. "The upper end looks like a landing field." We might as well tell [BWI] to let their planes land on Montgomery Road."
Some residents also expressed opposition to the plan's increase in the amount of land available for apartments and mobile homes.
Ms. McLaughlin said the plan would add about 400 acres of high-density zoning to the county and would allow development of about 4,000 new units. The changes should allow the county to meet its goal of developing 265 affordable units a year.
The proposed mobile home zoning includes land at Interstate 95 and Route 175 at southwestern edge of Elkridge.
The plan was filed Oct. 7 by county planners, but final revisions and approval by the County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board, are not expected before March.
The county Planning Board is scheduled to hear testimony on the zoning package Nov. 17, 19 and 24. After those hearings, the Planning Board will make its recommendation to the Zoning Board, which will conduct its own hearings.