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Higher-density development scheme OK'd Trade-off involves lower-cost housing


The Howard County Zoning Board last night unanimously endorsed an amendment that would allow developers to build at higher density in mixed-use areas if they include moderately priced housing in their projects.

"In the future, when we look out 10 years and 20 years [from now], I think we're going to have a shortage of affordable units," said Councilman Paul Farragut, who proposed the amendment.

At his urging, the five members of the County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board, approved his proposed amendment to regulations governing the new mixed-use zoning category -- a strictly regulated mix of houses, apartments, shops and businesses.

"What we're really talking about is the $80,000 townhouse, which we really don't find anymore," Mr. Farragut said at last night's work session in the county office building in Ellicott City.

The proposed amendment would keep mixed-use centers of more than 75 acres at 2.3 residential units per acre -- roughly the density of Columbia -- unless a percentage of the units was moderately priced.

Mr. Farragut's amendment would allow developers to build more than 2.3 residential units per acre if 5 percent of the units were moderately priced housing. If developers build more than 2.7 units per acre, the requirement would be 10 percent.

The vote, which puts the regulation change on the board's agenda for a work session sometime in September, appeared to contradict the County Council's vote on moderately priced dwelling legislation proposed by Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an East Columbia Democrat and Zoning Board chairman.

But Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat who represents the county's southeastern edge, said Mr. Farragut's proposal has key differences.

While Mr. Gray's bill would have allowed increases in residential density countywide, Mr. Farragut's proposal would only deal with areas designated for mixed-use.

And those mixed-use areas would require buffer zones near neighboring communities, and would be developed according to plans approved by the Zoning Board, Ms. Pendergrass added.

Mr. Gray said he supported the concept but was unsure about the formula proposed by Mr. Farragut.

Mr. Gray said that developers seemed to have little incentive to develop moderately priced units, and he wants Department of Planning and Zoning staff to develop proposals for a 500-acre, mixed-use area to present to the board when it reconvenes in September.

Under Mr. Farragut's proposal, a developer who has approval to build at 2.4 units per acre on a 500-acre site could build a total of 1,200 units. After assigning 5 percent -- 60 units -- to meet the moderately priced unit requirement, there would be 1,140 units left to sell at higher prices.

Last night's work session was the last until September for the eastern comprehensive rezoning.

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