County Zoning Board decision may speed mixed-use project Procedural action combining hearings angers opponents

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A procedural decision by the Howard County Zoning Board on the Rouse Co.'s proposal for a Columbia-style village in North Laurel may hasten the project, a move that has angered neighborhood residents opposed to the development.

The board decided last week to have one hearing on the Rouse Co.'s request for a rezoning of the 527.3-acre site off Gorman Road from a business district to a mixed-use category and on its specific plans for the development that call for hundreds of single-family homes and multifamily units as well as retailers and a recreation area.

"Hearing both at once just clouds the issue," said Karina Zimmerman, vice chairwoman of the Southern Howard Land Use Committee. "The zoning itself is one issue and now they're throwing a wrench into the deal by looking at the plans already.

"Are we saying it's zoned OK and therefore the preliminary plan is accepted?" she said. "It sure seems like they're putting it on the fast track from the outside looking in."

Added state Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Republican, who opposes the Rouse project: "It's very disappointing. If it's going to happen, it's now going to happen a lot quicker with this decision."

The hearing will be held in spring or summer, county officials said.

In a Nov. 25 letter, the Howard County Citizen's Association, a countywide civic group, asked zoning officials to consider the project as two separate parts.

But county officials and Rouse executives said spliting the two issues would cause unnecessary delays and confuse the hearing process. Paul Johnson, the county solicitor, said it would be difficult to limit residents' testimony to only one of the issues if the two cases were heard separately.

"I believe [combining the issues is] the only way this case could be heard," said Alton Scavo, Rouse senior vice president. "It allows citizens and the Zoning Board to not only see if the mixed use is right for the area, but also what it will actually look like and be like.

"It makes us take the plans out of the theoretical stages and put it into a reality they can see," he said. "To fully understand what mixed use is and what it means, you need to see the plan of how many houses, how much commercial and how much open space we're talking about."

If county zoning officials approve the project, it would be the largest of its kind under the new mixed-use category -- a designation that aims to re-create the new-town zoning style of Columbia in areas throughout the county.

About half the size of a typical Columbia village, the Rouse project would sit south of Gorman Road and north of Route 216 on the east and west sides of Interstate 95. Plans call for 1,425 residential units that would bring more than 3,800 residents to the North Laurel-Savage area.

Pub Date: 1/17/97

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