10-year General Plan hits the drafting stage; Task force ends its review of issues likely in next decade


Volunteers and professionals working on Howard County's new 10-year General Plan are entering the next phase in developing a guide for the county's growth.

After months of work identifying dozens of issues the county will face in the next decade, the 34-member General Plan Task Force is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Burleigh Manor Middle School to consider its new role in the next phase of the long process.

"We were charged by the county executive to develop the issues and act as a review panel," Chairman Jim McGowan said. "Our main task now is to sit down, review and comment on the plan."

The county Planning Board and County Council have reviewed the committee's recommendations, and government planners want to include their suggestions, plus those of a separate planning group, Howard County -- A United Vision, in a draft plan.

"After Christmas, we would like to go out and talk to community groups," Marsha McLaughlin, deputy county planning director, told a steering committee of seven -- composed of task force members and county planners -- during a meeting Friday in Ellicott City.

The final draft of the plan will be reviewed again by the Planning Board in March, and will be voted on by the County Council in July.

Lynne Nemeth, project director of the privately organized United Vision, attended the meeting and said her group plans to wind up its work by Nov. 21. The two planning efforts overlap somewhat, and 10 people participating in United Vision, headed by former County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Sandra Gray, are among those involved in crafting the new General Plan.

United Vision is the brainchild of the Columbia Foundation, which began the process last year. A group of about 200 county residents is working on ways of creating a sense of community in Howard County after 35 years of rapid population growth.

"I think we can all work together on it," Nemeth said during Friday's meeting.

Howard officials expect decades of rapid growth to end in the next few years, and leaders of both efforts are looking for ways to preserve and redevelop older neighborhoods and commercial areas, keep Howard's schools in Maryland's top ranks, and preserve the rural areas of the western county.

To those ends, County Executive James N. Robey created a Division of Environmental and Community Planning, headed by Elmina Hilsenrath, a former county employee who was teaching landscape architecture at the University of Maryland, McLaughlin said.

One major goal, said Joyce Kelly, a member of the task force and United Vision committee, is to make sure the plan's major recommendations are achieved.

"We've got to focus on the priorities," she said. "We'll never implement the whole thing. What people want to see is a focus on some real achievements."

Although most people pay no attention to such high-flying government work, it does affect nearly everyone, McLaughlin said.

"Decisions that get made in the General Plan dictate decisions on zoning, which controls what gets built across the street," she said.

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