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Building limits sought in Howard County; Councilman proposes strict development law


Heeding election-year voter concerns, a Howard County Council member has proposed tough restrictions on village-style projects in the fast-developing suburb, launching Howard's first battle over growth in 1999.

Guy J. Guzzone, a Democrat and freshman councilman from the Laurel area, would put new controls on mixed-use developments, typically large projects that mix residential, commercial and employment uses on one tract of land.

While many growth-control activists might be pleased, some developers are wary of Guzzone's ideas, which could lead to rounds of counterproposals by advocates on all sides.

"These developments strike fear in the hearts of established communities," said County Executive James N. Robey. "I think Guy is trying to do the right thing," he said, noting he wasn't familiar with details of the proposal.

One detail would require that roads be built and open to traffic before final subdivision plans are approved by the county.

Mixed-use developments are debated in much of the region, from the nearly 900-home Avalon project, going up along Reisterstown Road in Pikesville, to two proposed developments that would add 2,500 homes over the next decade in southern Howard County.

Residents fear crowded schools and roads, while builders object to what they say is costly overregulation.

"I'm trying to bring a little more certainty to the outcome of the mixed-use development, and the outcome on surrounding communities," said Guzzone.

County planning director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. worries that too much regulation could discourage builders from using mixed-use zoning -- a tool planners consider progressive because of its flexibility.

"Why would anyone volunteer to do that, unless you like pain?" he said. "We're trying to encourage these things."

Thomas W. Ballentine, director of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, criticized Guzzone's proposal for restricting the design flexibility that makes mixed-use developments work. Without that, he said, developers will choose for smaller traditional housing or commercial projects.

Guzzone is listening more to people like Greg Fries, president of the Southern Howard Land Use Committee, who said a mixed-use zone should be relabeled "an opportunity zone for developers."

His group has opposed a Rouse Co. plan to create a village along Route 216 near Laurel and another large project proposed three miles west in Fulton.

Guzzone proposed his measures in response to the controversies over these projects. Although the Rouse Co.'s venture has passed most county hurdles and would not be affected, the Iager Farm project near Fulton would be, because it has not been submitted to officials.

The councilman's proposal must first go to the county planning board Feb. 24. In addition to the provision for completing new roads early on, it would require that a detailed 20-year projection of financial costs vs. benefits to the county be prepared as part of a planning department recommendation on each project. And at least 30 percent of all open space would be usable for active recreation.

Although many aren't familiar with the details, community and political leaders are generally praising Guzzone's initiative as one that is needed.

Rouse Co. officials say new rules aren't needed.

"Frankly, the land use controls in place are already adequate. We've just gone through a very exhausting process," said David E. Forester, vice president and senior development director of Howard Research and Development, an affiliate of the company.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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