Difficulties of developing smaller 'mixed-use' properties aired


Because of an editing error, an article in Thursday's Howard County section of The Sun stated incorrectly that the Howard County Planning Board recommended rezoning 5.8 acres of land at the southwest corner of Routes 144 and 97 in Cooksville for commercial use. In fact, the board unanimously voted to oppose the rezoning sought by the Cooksville Limited Partnership.

The Sun regrets the error.

The bulk of the Fulton area designated for "mixed use" with houses, apartments, shops and businesses won't be developed anytime soon, the attorney for a property owner who is asking to be excluded from the area said last night.

Testifying before the Howard County Planning Board, attorney Thomas M. Meachum said the Iager family, which owns about 400 acres of the 720-acre area that was designated mixed use in 1993, has no intention of developing the Fulton farmland soon.

Mr. Meachum tried to persuade the board to endorse the plan of property owner Willard Marlow of Comus, who wants the mixed-use concept replaced with zoning that would allow a residential subdivision of 94 detached houses on his 32 acres.

But board members unanimously opposed the proposal, saying it would open the door to other property owners seeking zoning changes and ignore the priorities set for the area by county planners. Their recommendation will go to the County Council, which also sits as the Zoning Board, for a final decision.

Currently, Mr. Marlow and the Iager family have a right to build one home for every 4.25 acres. If they choose to meet county planners' conditions, however, they may use an "overlay" zoning that allows a Columbia-style development.

The mixed-use zoning allows a combination of houses, apartments, open space, businesses and shops. Housing is limited to about three homes per acre.

To take advantage of mixed-use zoning effectively, however, a property owner would need more than 32 acres, and that would require the cooperation of neighboring property owners, Mr. Meachum told the board.

Rather than working with his neighbors, the Iagers, Mr. Marlow has fought in court to separate the 32 acres from land he and the Iagers used to own together.

One of the principal property owners, Gene Iager, attended the hearing but would not comment.

After the board recommended against the rezoning, Mr. Meachum said he believed the panel understood Mr. Marlow's problem. But without the rezoning, there is little that can be done with the property.

Planning board Chairwoman Joan Lancos said the panel was sympathetic and planned to convey to the Zoning Board its concern that property owners need help coordinating efforts to create mixed-use communities.

"We understand the quandary that they're in -- that there is no mechanism to deal with it. But we didn't feel that rezoning was the way to deal with it," Ms. Lancos said.

The Zoning Board will now schedule its own hearing on the rezoning request for the property, which is just off U.S. 29 and about midway between Johns Hopkins Road and Route 216.

In addition to the planning board's unfavorable recommendation, the case will be weighted down by a report from the county Department of Planning and Zoning, which also recommends against rezoning.

In another zoning case last night, the planning board unanimously recommended rezoning 5.8 acres at the southwest corner of Routes 144 and 97 in Cooksville for commercial use.

The rezoning had been sought by the Cooksville Limited Partnership for a small shopping area. Opponents said there was already too much commercially zoned property on Route 97.

Last year, commercial zoning was approved for two parcels, on which service stations and a few small shops or businesses will be built, within 2 miles of the proposed rezoning.

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