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Proposal on mixed-use development receives a cool reception in council Measure would require developers to study impact


The chances of passage of Councilman C. Vernon Gray's proposal to require fiscal impact studies for mixed-use developments appeared dim last night as two Republicans joined with administration officials to oppose the plan.

Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, has proposed requiring that mixed-use projects -- modeled on the mix of residential, business and open space areas of Columbia -- be studied to measure their tTC impact on taxes and services.

But Planning Director Joseph Rutter called the requirement an impractical and unnecessary burden on developers. Fiscal impacts are better measured more broadly, he said.

"We believe that it needs to be done on a countywide basis rather than a site-by-site basis," Rutter told the council.

At the heart of the debate are fears that residential areas have grown too fast compared to business areas. Businesses once represented 25 percent of Howard's property tax base compared with less than 19 percent now.

This worries county officials because homes typically cost the county more in services -- schools, roads and parks -- than they pay in taxes. The opposite is true for businesses.

Because of that disparity, Gray wants developers to submit studies showing how new mixed-use developments -- on some of the county's last, big undeveloped parcels -- will affect Howard's budget.

The requirement would affect the Rouse Co.'s plans to build a 525-acre mixed-use development in North Laurel, near Interstate and Route 216.

Republican council members Charles C. Feaga and Darrel E. Drown spoke against Gray's proposal last night, saying county officials already have enough information to make wise land-use decisions.

"I'm not sure that the information that we are asking for is more than we already have," Drown said.

Council Chairman Dennis R. Schrader, a North Laurel Republican, said he was undecided.

"On the surface, this looks like a reasonable idea," Schrader said, but "there's something going on that I can't quite reconcile."

Gray had trouble convincing even fellow council Democrat Mary C. Lorsung of west Columbia to support his plan. She is undecided, she said after the meeting.

Schrader and Lorsung would have to vote in favor of Gray's proposal for it to pass 3-2.

Mixed-use zones require a minimum of 15 percent business property and a minimum of 35 percent open space. That means the residential part of a mixed-use project can be 50 percent or less of the development's total area.

After the meeting, Rutter said Columbia has about 15 percent of its property dedicated to business uses.

But the businesses in those areas generate 36 percent of the tax revenue in Columbia. That means that mixed-use developments with even the minimum amount of business property would help Howard improve the imbalance in its tax base, Rutter said.

The council is to vote on Gray's proposal at its Jan. 6 meeting.

The Planning Board has rejected it.

Pub Date: 12/24/96

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