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Zoning Board rejects exemption asked in Fulton mixed-use area


The Howard County Zoning Board stood by county planners' vision of a careful mix of houses, apartments, shops and businesses on 820 acres in Fulton, refusing last night to allow a property owner to cut his land out of the mixed-use area.

While that decision followed the recommendations of the county Department of Planning and Zoning and the Planning Board, the board went against similar recommendations in another case. It granted rezoning in western Ellicott City allowing a two-story building with apartments above shops and offices.

In the Fulton case, County Council members, sitting as the board, voted 5-0 against granting rezoning on 32 acres at the end of Old Columbia Road owned by Willard H. Marlow of Comus in Montgomery County. Mr. Marlow had proposed building 94 detached houses on the site, no more than would have been allowed under the mixed-use zoning.

Although the number of houses would be about the same under the residential zoning Mr. Marlow sought, board Chairman Darrel Drown said the rezoning would have ripped at the fabric of the mixed-use area.

Mr. Drown urged the board to "look to the future" in making its decision and not set a precedent of allowing landowners to pull out of the Fulton mixed-use area.

He said Thomas Meachum, Mr. Marlow's attorney, did a good job convincing him that the proposed development could fit easily into a larger mixed-use plan, but, "This is not my idea of [mixed-use]."

If Mr. Marlow were allowed to pull his land from the mixed-use area, other property owners could win similar approvals, he said, which would substantially change the character of the neighborhood.

The board's view was shared by the Department of Planning and Zoning, which answers to County Executive Charles I. Ecker and the Planning Board.

Mr. Meachum and Mr. Marlow declined to comment last night, saying they wanted to study the decision.

The board's vote authorizes county lawyers to draft a zoning decision, which will be enacted when board members sign it. The written decision could take several weeks to complete.

In the other case, the board voted 3-2 to grant 1.1 acres of the first convenience center zoning along Route 144 in the planned 55-acre Terra Maria development.

It was a chance for Councilman Dennis Schrader, 3rd District Republican who took office in December, to assert his support of property owners' rights, despite the objections of his two Republican colleagues.

Both Mr. Drown and Charles C. Feaga, the 5th District Republican who represents the area, voted against the rezoning, saying it wasn't compatible with development.

"It's fairly clear-cut that it's compatible," Mr. Schrader said.

Mr. Schrader sided with Mr. Drown and Mr. Feaga in a second vote to limit the convenience center to one 8,000-square-foot building instead of two.

The neo-traditional design of the community involves going back to an old-fashioned, small-town style.

Developers who testified in favor of the rezoning argued that Terra Maria could mirror Colonial Williamsburg, with a village green, spacious Colonial-style houses with gabled windows and alleyways leading to hidden garages.

That type of development was encouraged in the county's 1990 General Plan, a 20-year blueprint for growth. One of the General Plan's main authors, former planning and zoning director Uri Avin, helped design the project.

Before yesterday's work sessions to decide the two cases, the board met behind closed doors to discuss legal implications of the Terra Maria case.

The rezoning is the first of its kind to be approved since November, when county voters overwhelmingly approved Question B, a County Charter amendment giving citizens referendum power and the county executive veto power over certain zoning decisions. Before the change, those decisions were left to the board.

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