After two months of delays, hearings before the Howard County Zoning Board on a developer's plan to convert a 507-acre turkey farm in Fulton into a mixed-used community began last night.
More than a hundred residents of the area -- many of whom oppose Stewart J. Greenebaum's plan to develop the Iager family farm into a community of single-family houses, townhouses, condominiums and office buildings -- appeared at the hearing in the county office building in Ellicott City.
"If this comes, there's going to be traffic everywhere," said area resident Kevin Lewis, adding that Greenebaum's plan for moderately priced housing would "bring down the general value of the neighborhood."
Much of the hearing -- the first of 11 set by Zoning Board Chairwoman Mary C. Lorsung -- was spent on preliminary matters, particularly the scheduling of meetings.
In June, Lorsung scheduled daytime hearings on the proposal, after residents requested a delay because many of them were to participate in a General Task Force Planning meeting on growth in Howard County.
Attorney John Breitenberg, official spokesman for the community, objected to daytime hearings. He said that many residents, including him, would be unable to attend and would thus be prevented from properly arguing against the proposed development.
"I personally will not be able to attend all of the daytime hearings because I have to make a living for my family," said Breitenberg. "All we're asking for is a level playing field, and we won't have that with daytime hearings."
Last night, the community and Greenebaum agreed to change the start of next Wednesday's hearing from 10: 30 a.m to 6 p.m.
Whether three other daytime hearings will be moved to evenings is unclear. Saturday daytime hearings might be scheduled.
Greenebaum seeks approval from the Zoning Board to begin the development that would include 1,168 residential units, more than 150,000 square feet of retail space, and more than 1 million square feet of office space.
He says that the project, if approved, would be phased in during a 10-year period, with construction beginning in 2001.
Greenebaum says he hopes that families who move into the community will work there. Thus, he suggests, traffic congestion will be reduced.
"Maple Lawn Farms will be a sustainable community with all four different types of uses accessible without a car," he said. "This contained community includes 35 percent open space of walking and bike trails, gardens, greens, parks and environmental reserves."
Residents disagree, saying they worry that the rural lifestyle to which they have become accustomed will disappear and that area schools and roads will become crowded.
Residents also say that if Green-ebaum's plan is approved, his development and two others scheduled to be built three miles away -- Cherrytree Park in Scaggsville and a Rouse Co. development in North Laurel -- would add more than 2,500 houses to southeastern Howard over 10 years.