Gray renews effort to slow development; Councilman's plan would limit homes in Big Branch Overlook; Zoning amendment sought; Change would require lots near reservoir to be at least 2 acres


Sixteen months after his attempt to slow a planned residential community in Dayton failed, Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray is trying again.

The east Columbia Democrat has drafted a zoning amendment that would prohibit Glenwood farmer Charles Sharp from building some of the 95 houses he has proposed on 237 acres of farmland on Triadelphia Road. Gray said the amendment would affect development of about 35 one-acre lots within 2,500 feet of the Triadelphia Reservoir.

Gray, who in September 1997 proposed an amendment that would have reduced the number of houses Sharp could build, said he wants to protect the ground water in wells and the reservoir from the destructive effects of the development, known as Big Branch Overlook.

"This has to do with protecting the water quality in the Dayton area," said Gray, who added that he was asked by the Dayton Community Association two years ago to help the group slow construction of Big Branch Overlook. "This does not prevent you from building homes there, it just limits how many you can build."

Sharp did not respond to requests for comment, but his attorney criticized the councilman's proposal.

"Trying to retroactively change the rules of the game sets a bad precedent," said Alec Adams. "I hope Mr. Gray and other members of the council will consider the unfairness of this proposal."

The county Planning Board will make a recommendation on the amendment Feb. 24.

If approved, the legislation would change the county zoning code to mirror that of the state's, which prohibits construction of residential lots of less than 2 acres on tracts of more than 20 acres in a Rural Conservation district.

In seemingly contradictory fashion, the county zoning code requires such lots to be less than 1.5 acres.

Sharp has filed a waiver with the state to be allowed to develop lots less than the state's required 2-acre minimum.

The Dayton Community Association has long contended that development of all 95 houses of Big Branch Overlook would pollute Triadelphia Reservoir and wreak havoc on nearby ecosystems.

Although a suit filed by the association against Sharp, the county and the state is pending, Peter J. Esseff, president of the association, said his group would not oppose a scaled-down version of the plan.

"Sixty homes out here can be a beautiful community," he said, noting that his neighborhood, Kalmia Farms, has about 60 homes on more than 500 acres. "More than that, it's overkill."

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning, prefaced his comments by saying he is neutral since his office will write a technical staff report on the amendment.

"The concern is that it's an area that is more sensitive, which would be better off in preservation parcels than in the back yards of 3-acre lots," Rutter said. "I'm very appreciative of Vernon tailoring legislation to what he sees as an immediate problem."

Adams argues that his client does not have to adhere to the state regulations because the Triadelphia Reservoir is not a water-supply reservoir. T. Howard Duckett Reservoir, several miles southeast of Triadelphia along the Patuxent River, is where water is drawn, he said.

"Since no water has been taken from [Triadelphia] since the early 1940s, it's a stretch to say it's a reservoir or to assert that the development would cause health problems," Adams said. "In terms of development, this will be an environmentally sound development."

Although this is the second time in three years that Gray has drafted legislation specifically aimed at Big Branch Overlook, the councilman said he has nothing against Sharp.

"Chuck Sharp is aware of what I've been doing for the last couple of years," Gray said.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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