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Zig-Zag on Zoning HOWARD COUNTy


Oh, what a winding, twisted road the members of the Howard County Zoning Board do travel.

In their latest detour, those in the zoning driver's seat appear to be leaning toward giving developers some flexibility regarding residential densities that will be allowed on six large parcels in the county.

Some back-seat drivers, however, want less density to prevail.

At its core, this running dispute is over the number of affordable homes -- townhouses and apartments, in other words -- that will be allowed in these six areas.

The formula is simple: The higher the density, the greater the number of affordable homes; the lower the density, the reverse becomes true.

Council members Shane Pendergrass and Darrel Drown appear

to be the main proponents of lower density. They should leave the driving to others.

Councilman Vernon Gray, on the other hand, appears to have the right idea, proposing regulations that would allow for developments of either 2.5- , 4, 6 or 8 units per acre.

Larger parcels would have a smaller maximum density, but would still be able to set aside land for town homes and apartments. Smaller properties would have the greater flexibility that comes with higher densities to encourage the development of affordable homes.

Mr. Gray calls it a "one size doesn't fit all" philosophy. It's a good one. The plan also would appear to have little opposition from County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who sees the flexible concept as Howard's "last chance" for affordable housing.

But the approach won't sit well with those who have battled to bring to a halt development in Howard County, who don't like the "element" that moves into apartments and town homes. That position is snobbish at best, and at worse classist and racist. It should not be encouraged by the zoning board.

As a step on the way to a new comprehensive plan, the council, sitting as the zoning board, this week voted to allow an average density of three units on larger properties and six units on smaller ones.

We hope it is a signal that Howard County, on the issue of mixed-use density, is getting back on track.

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