CHANGES that Howard County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone wants to make in the mixed-use zoning classification are political dynamite that must be handled carefully. Mixed-use zoning is a good tool to implement Smart Growth policies that reduce sprawl and cluster development for efficient use of infrastructure. That tool could be damaged in Mr. Guzzone's zeal to stop one particular project.
The councilman, former head of the state Sierra Club chapter, has been an ally of critics of two large, planned mixed-use developments. Mr. Guzzone can't block the 1,200-house residential and commercial development being built by Rouse Co. in North Laurel, already approved by the Zoning Board. But board approval is pending for a 1,000-house development on the Iager farm in Fulton.
The so-called Iager project could be derailed or significantly reduced by one of Mr. Guzzone's proposals. He wants the county planning department to withhold approval of mixed-use projects until the roads to serve them have been built. The development depends on future improvements to U.S. 29 and Route 216.
Current zoning law allows developers to phase their construction according to schedules for building and improving roads in the county General Plan. Mr. Guzzone's amendment would end that practice. If the road doesn't already exist, the developer won't be able to build. Opponents could thwart development by lobbying against funds to improve certain roads.
Several of the other proposals from Mr. Guzzone are more palatable. In particular, his idea to require more meetings between developers and affected neighborhoods might remove some of the rancor from the process to rezone land. But care must be taken not to hamstring developers who want to use the mixed-use zoning category. It could be a useful tool to bring new development to older communities, too.