It's a suburban county with houses so expensive that many teachers, police officers and other county workers must commute to it.
But an affordable housing development is on the way -- albeit up to four years away -- thanks to action taken last night by the Howard County Zoning Board. The board voted 3-2 to allow Blue Stream Limited Partnership to develop a 34-acre sliver of land in Elkridge just east of the Interstate 95-Route 175 interchange.
Blue Stream plans to build either prefabricated "modular homes" or mobile homes in the area -- costing about $100,000 each (for home and plot) compared with $193,000 for the average single-family home in the county.
"We need more affordable housing," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "A lot of our county employees cannot afford to live here."
For example, he said, 70 percent of Howard firefighters live outside the county. So does Mr. Ecker's son, a teacher. Meanwhile, Howard residents regularly fight efforts to bring less expensive homes near their large homes.
"There's a general, countywide fear that affordable housing will bring in 'those people,' " Mr. Ecker said in an interview, holding his fingers up as quotation marks. "But 'those people' are police, those people are store clerks, those people are my kids."
A tavern owner near the site -- welcomed the news.
"It's more bodies, more potential customers," said Stan Nasiatka, whose family has owned The Three Nine's Tavern on U.S. 1 in a working class section in the east county for 33 years.
Three Nine's is the kind of place where patrons know each other, you can get beer and sandwiches to go.
The zoning board voted last night to reclassify the 34-acre site from light manufacturing to mobile home residential. The majority -- Charles C. Feaga, C. Vernon Gray and Mary C. Lorsung -- said affordable housing was needed and the site was not suited for light manufacturing. Mr. Gray also said affordable housing should be placed throughout the county.
The two members opposing the change -- Darrel E. Drown and Dennis R. Schrader -- said the area should be kept for industrial use so Howard can attract new industry to balance the high cost of providing services to thousands of expected new residents.
"We just keep eating away at this commercial-industrial base," Mr. Schrader said.
Earlier this year, the Howard County school board had objected to the reclassification because its schools in the area already have enough students.
"This is just going to add to the problem," Susan Cook, chairwoman of the board, said yesterday. "Since the county is not willing to adequately fund education, they could at least control growth."
The issue of growth vs. education will still come into play, however.
The county's "adequate public facilities" laws -- which are designed to give the county time to build roads and schools at the same pace as private development -- will delay the project by several years, said David Carney, a lawyer for the landowner, and Joseph Rutter, director of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.