The Howard County Planning Board recommended the approval last night of a proposal that would allow the development of a new modular home community in Elkridge.
The request by Blue Stream Partnership Ltd. of Ellicott City to rezone about 34 acres to permit modular home construction has attracted countywide attention because it drew the school board into offering its opinion on zoning matters for the first time.
The three-member planning board was persuaded that the best use of the land -- just off U.S. 1 and Port Capital Drive -- would be to develop moderate-priced housing.
The land is zoned for light industrial use, but it wraps around a new modular home community being developed adjacent to the Aladdin Village mobile home park.
"There is a strong need for moderate-priced housing," said board member Theodore F. Mariani. "There was a mistake made [in the 1993 comprehensive zoning plan] where the boundary lines were set."
The planning board's recommendation would permit rezoning the land for residential development to allow mobile or modular homes. The proposal for 120 to 160 homes now goes to the county Zoning Board for final approval. No date has been set for that hearing.
The planning board's decision overruled a negative recommendation from the county Department of Planning and Zoning, which had concluded that no mistake had been made in zoning the land for industrial use.
The department also had argued that the county needs to protect its undeveloped industrial land for future industrial development to balance the county's tax base.
But the Blue Stream developers argued that the 34 acres had been made unsuitable for industrial development because the JTC land immediately adjacent to it already had been rezoned for modular/mobile homes.
The other side of the property is bordered by a stream and wetlands.
"It isn't always the best thing for use to rezone commercial and industrial tax bases," said Joan Lancos, the board chairwoman. "But in this particular case, it is likely that the land never would be developed for industrial use.
"We may be losing industrial tax base, but we are gaining needed affordable housing that we are so sorely lacking."
The planning board ignored an unprecedented letter issued by the school board in February, urging the rejection of a Blue Stream proposal for the site that would have permitted the construction of up to 264 townhouses.
The board's letter argued that the townhouse proposal would have worsened the conditions in the overcrowded area schools. Blue Stream withdrew the proposal in reaction to that and other criticism.
The letter had been issued as the county executive and County Council were considering making significant cuts in the school board's proposed capital budget to build new schools and renovate existing ones to accommodate the dramatic growth in student enrollment.
The budget cuts eventually were made, forcing the school board to scale back the size of some of its plans.
But because the school board has not stated any opinion on the modular home proposal, the planning board barely considered the issue. The school board is scheduled to discuss the impact of the proposed rezoning at its meeting this afternoon.
David Carney, the Columbia attorney representing Blue Stream, apparently persuaded the planning board that the school board will not issue a negative letter on the current plan to rezone the site.
"To my knowledge, this was the only occurrence of the Board of Education commenting on a zoning issue," Mr. Carney said. "It was a politically sensitive time. It came at a time of budget talks.
"Now we see the Board of Education getting back to its pattern of commenting on the impact of the number of students" from a proposed development, but not offering an opinion on the proposal, Mr. Carney said.