Housing in Westminster Carroll County: Zoning that allows only new single-family homes needs to be broadened.


RISING LAND values and restrictive zoning codes have created a lack of affordable housing in Westminster, according to the city's land-use plan report.

City zoning laws sanction only construction of single-family homes. At an average price in Carroll County of nearly $160,000, these houses are beyond the financial reach of many buyers.

The comprehensive plan developed by city staff and citizen advisers urges a diversity of housing types, including rental units and multifamily dwellings.

While the plan doesn't mention low-income or subsidized housing, the intent of such changes would be to support more affordable housing. With a third of Westminster's residents paying more than 30 percent of family income on mortgage or rent payments, the need is underscored.

Affordable housing ghettos must be avoided. City planner Katrina Tucker points to the Avondale Run development of townhouses, apartments and single-family homes as an example of viable residential diversity.

The mayor and city council adopted the plan this month, focusing on critical rezoning and approving more small-lot, single-family homes. But support exists for more flexibility to allow more multifamily housing units.

According to city housing officials, developers who tear down existing multi-family housing in some sections may not be permitted to rebuild unless they lower the density level. Ms. Tucker suggests that market forces respond to the need for more apartments in Westminster, without requiring extensive procedures for developer exceptions.

Even if new apartments are not aimed at lower-income renters, they might free up older, more affordable rental units in the city, planners suggest. But that's not a certainty, if new city residents move into those new apartments.

Westminster has its first comprehensive plan in 13 years, but the affordable housing issue will not go away. It needs prompt attention and workable solutions.

Pub Date: 6/29/98

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