Terra Maria rezoning touted to board


An article in the Howard edition of The Sun yesterday incorrectly identified the company for which Uri Avin works. He is chief of comprehensive planning for Columbia-based LDR International.

The Sun regrets the error.

A "more intimate space," with quiet walks and park benches under mature trees untouched by bulldozers, would result from a proposed rezoning, a former Howard County planning director told the county Zoning Board last night.

That is the vision for Terra Maria, a 55-acre development along Route 144 that backs up to U.S. 40 in western Ellicott City, said Uri Avin, who now works for the Columbia firm Land Design & Development.

Mr. Avin was the primary architect of the county's 1990 General Plan, which prescribes development strategies through the year One of those strategies, called neo-traditional design in the parlance of planners, involved getting back to the old-fashioned, small-town style of community, with apartments atop businesses and small shops.

It's the one component of that style of development that Terra Maria is lacking, Mr. Avin argued, and rezoning 1.1 acres of land along Route 144 would allow it.

If the board approves the rezoning proposal, Terra Maria could resemble Colonial Williamsburg, with a village green, spacious Colonial-style houses with gabled windows, and with alleyways leading to hidden garages.

It would be, Mr. Avin said, the antithesis of what county residents are used to seeing: wide streetscapes dominated by cars, garages and "blank facades."

While the idea sounds appealing to many residents of Turf Valley Overlook, which is just north of Terra Maria across U.S. 40, they have trouble seeing the need for additional commercial land.

"Why wasn't this incorporated into the plans they presented to the Planning Board and the Zoning Board originally?" asked Jay Vocke, who attended the zoning hearing with about 15 of his neighbors.

In 1992, the site was originally zoned for tightly clustered housing sites -- integral to the traditional small-town look -- along with a high percentage of open space. In 1993, the Zoning Board adopted new regulations that allowed narrower streets and alleyways to permit the neo-traditional scheme.

The Terra Maria rezoning proposal took on new significance in November, when voters overwhelmingly approved Question B, a County Charter amendment giving citizens referendum power and the county executive veto power over certain zoning decisions that were previously left solely to the County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board.

The type of zoning proposed for Terra Maria should have been affected by the charter change, growth-control activists contend. However, the County Council adopted rules that exempted such rezonings from referendum or veto.

Mr. Vocke and other opponents of the proposed rezoning will get an opportunity to testify at a second hearing at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the George Howard county office building in Ellicott City.

Turf Valley Overlook resident Pete Milot said he opposed the rezoning because it's so close to the U.S. 40 commercial strip, which has more than enough convenience stores, gas stations, day-care centers and other businesses of the kind that could be opened in the proposed commercial space.

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