A proposal to rezone land in Elkridge for up to 264 townhouses has come under attack from zoning officials who say the project would worsen crowding at nearby schools and fracture the industrial corridor along U.S. 1.
Yesterday, the Planning Board postponed a hearing on the rezoning request to give Blue Stream Limited Partnership and Elk Partnership time to address the issues outlined in a March 10 Planning and Zoning Department report.
The report, signed by Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the department, recommended that the Planning Board reject the Howard County partnerships' request to rezone 34 acres of a 79-acre site from light manufacturing to residential property.
It comes after an unprecedented Feb. 23 request by the Board of Education asking the Zoning Board to deny the rezoning petition, citing overcrowding at Waterloo Elementary, Mayfield Woods Middle and Howard High schools.
School board Chairwoman Susan Cook was happy to hear yesterday that planning and zoning officials also had reservations about the the request.
"It's sort of gratifying to see other people concerned about the change," Ms. Cook said.
But David Carney, an Ellicott City attorney who represents the partnerships, said he was not discouraged by the technical staff report, which the Planning Board will use in making its zoning decision.
"I don't think it hurts that much," said Mr. Carney.
He said he believes his clients have a good case to have the land rezoned because the county rezoned an adjacent property last year to allow housing.
The partnerships also said that the land is unfit for commercial use because of the wetlands, steep slopes and the stream on the property.
The undeveloped site is bordered by Port Capital Drive, U.S. 1, Interstate 95 and Deep Run stream.
In their objection to the request, planning and zoning officials said the proposed development would be out of place in an area dominated by trucking companies, distribution facilities and small manufacturers.
According to the report, the project would be located in a "sea of manufacturing zoned land."
The report also cited the school board's objections to the project. It also said that the partnerships had failed to prove their claim that wetlands, steep slopes and a stream on the property )) hamper commercial development.
And it said that a previous Blue Stream plan to build a warehouse and distribution buildings on the site shows that the site can be used for light manufacturing.
That shows that "the current zoning does not deny the property owner the reasonable use of his land," the report said.
But the partnerships argue that the land should be rezoned because the county Zoning Board rezoned a nearby site for residential use last year, opening the door to residential development in an industrial area. Several mobile home parks are the only other nearby residential properties.
"They changed rules and created a residential zoned pocket in the industrial zone," Mr. Carney said.
The partnerships also say that they might be required by the county to build an industrial access road through their property once the residential development is built, but argue that such a road would be inappropriate.
In opposing the project last month, school officials said it would add more students to an already overburdened school system.
According to enrollment figures, the project would add 94 students to local schools by 2000.
Howard High, the county's largest high school, is projected to be overcrowded by 1,309 students by 2000.
That means the school would have nearly 100 percent more students than its original capacity.
School officials also worry that they will not receive funding this year for new schools and additions that would absorb increases in students.
"We're not in the business of zoning," Ms. Cook said.
"However, when we see a real possibility of additional students without funding for additional facilities . . . then it's our duty to speak up in opposition," she said.
The Planning Board is scheduled to hear the rezoning request April 26.
The Zoning Board then will review the case and hold a public hearing before deciding whether to allow the project.
The developer could appeal a negative Zoning Board decision.