Rocket science and Maple Lawn Farms


LAST WEEK'S offering on the proposed Maple Lawn Farms Development was a bit overheated, according to various opponents of the project.

It was suggested in this space that a proposal to substantially alter and delay the developer's plan was late in the game and could make the project infeasible - either by imposing intolerable delays on construction or reducing its size enough to change the profit margin.

Changes proposed changes by Republican Councilmen Chris Merdon and Allan Kittleman would not allow construction to begin at Maple Lawn Farms until some adjacent roads are made adequate. At least one of these projects has not even been funded by the state.

At the same time, Mr. Kittleman and Mr. Merdon would reduce the Maple Farm project's density - from 2.3 houses per acre to two. Zoning in the area provides for as many as three houses per acre.

Coming six months and 32 hearings into the process, proposals of this scope seemed a bit late in the game. "A poison pill," I suggested.

Not at all, says John Adolphsen, a Fulton resident and member of the group that is fighting the development proposed by Greenebaum & Rose.

"This is the time for such proposals," he said. "They've done their homework. They're doing their jobs."

Moreover, he said, to suggest that the proposals were designed to make the project infeasible - to kill it, in effect - was to unfairly impugn the motives of the councilmen.

His partner, Harry Brodie, president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association, agreed.

"All Howard County residents should applaud their conscientiousness and thoroughness," Mr. Brodie said in a letter to the editor of The Sun.

Mr. Adolphsen, a retired engineer who worked for NASA, and Mr. Brodie, a grants administrator for the National Institutes of Health, have been working in opposition to the Greenebaum project for two years.

They point out that proposed developments are frequently altered. A nearby Rouse Co. project was scaled back, they say.

Similarly, approval of such plans are made contingent on studies of the traffic they will generate. Thus, the opponents and the developer put on "expert" witnesses to assess the impact. The experts disagreed, of course.

Mr. Brodie and Mr. Adolphsen point out that two nearby developments which may put more pressure on Routes 216 and 29 already have been approved with some restrictions.

New houses and new work sites should be phased into place so that all the infrastructure can bear the new traffic, they say.

In the end, the county council - sitting as a zoning board - will make a judgment about all the "impacts."

Mr. Adolphsen, a NASA engineer, says you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand the zoning regulations. He is, though, and apparently he does.

What you do need to be is someone with endurance and motivation to plow through hundreds of pages of regulations. Based on that effort, Mr. Adolphsen believes the zoning board will find that the developers' plan fails to meet requirements in many essential respects.

Again, the zoning board - whose members may not comment on its deliberations - will decide who's right.

In a conversation outside the American Cities Building on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Brodie and Mr. Adolphsen agreed that, at bottom, they are fighting not just the developer but Howard County, which arrived several years ago to impose radical change in their section of the county. On top of what was rural, residential zoning, the county gave his neighborhood a mixed-use development designation. The zoning went from one house per 1 to 3 acres to three.

In a real sense, they point out, the effective density at Maple Lawn Farms could be much higher. Some 1,168 units are proposed for approximately 500 acres - a density of 2.3 units per acre. But some of these acres will have no housing and some will have many more than 2.3 with townhouses and condominiums.

Part of the developer's concept is Smart Growth - the idea that maximum use of infrastructure (schools, roads, police and fire) can occur only with higher density. Again, county planners support and encourage that approach.

In fact, the county built a police and fire station and a new school in the area in anticipation of this sort of development. With zoning that permits up to 3 units per acre, the county sought to use one of the last large tracts of developable land.

But Mr. Adolphsen says the county's own rules require developers to propose things that are consistent with an area's existing character.

The developer argues that Maple Farms won't generate so much new traffic because people will be walking to work, to school, etc. That idea, the opponents say, is laughable - part of the developer's sales job.

Mr. Brodie and Mr. Adolphsen are frustrated that some may see them as NIMBYs without a legitimate cause. What they are doing, they say, is part of the process and must be. If people don't stand up for their rights and their community's rights, Mr. Adolphsen asked, who will?

"We're not against growth," he said. "We're for controlled growth."

C. Fraser Smith writes editorials about Howard County for The Sun.

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