Slow-growth activists who came to the Howard County Zoning Board work session last night received an unpleasant surprise.
They expected - and hoped - the board would approve amended plans for the Maple Lawn Farms project on a former turkey farm on 507.9 acres in southern Howard County. The modified plans, introduced last month by Republicans Christopher J. Merdon and Allan H. Kittleman, would have decreased the housing density of the 1,168-home development.
But, to the dismay of neighbors who oppose the mixed-use development, the three Democrats on the board did not support the suggested changes. Although the board did not vote on the Maple Lawn Farms proposal last night, it became clear through discussions that three of the five members - all of the Democrats - would support the higher density that developer Stewart Greenebaum had proposed.
"I'm just absolutely shocked," said Peter J. Oswald, vice president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association, who has fought Greenebaum's Maple Lawn Farms development. "Everything we did was for naught."
Greenebaum was diplomatic after the work session ended.
"What you saw tonight was an honest effort by all five zoning board members to reach a consensus on what is the best thing for Howard County," he said. "We will respond to that."
About 30 people came to listen in on the work session, held in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. It lasted about three hours, during which the board passed on suggestions to Greenebaum.
Greenebaum's lawyer, Richard B. Talkin, said his client would need about a week to respond to the suggestions. After that, the Zoning Board will hold another work session and eventually vote on the plan.
A date for the next work session has not been set.
Praised as a Smart Growth, neotraditional community, the Fulton development has drawn criticism for its high-density housing. In addition to maintaining the housing density, the board suggested adding 50 affordable senior housing units and waiting until funding is approved for the relocation of Route 216 before building begins, so the road can better handle traffic from the development.
But the issue that had citizens riled up was housing density.
The project's opponents - mostly area residents - did not want to see high-density condominiums and townhouses in their neighborhood of mostly single-family homes. They felt confident going into last night's work session that the board would vote to approve the Kittleman-Merdon modification, which they liked better than the original. It would have had fewer housing units and more commercial space.
The residents assumed Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, would support that proposal. They expected Guzzone and the Republicans to outvote the other two Democrats on the board, Mary C. Lorsung, representing west Columbia, and C. Vernon Gray, representing east Columbia.
But the swing vote - Guzzone - turned out to swing in the opposite direction. Guzzone supported the higher density.
"I just feel like the citizens have been ignored throughout," said John W. Taylor, past president of the now-defunct Howard Countians for Responsible Growth. "Perhaps the most offensive thing to me is people calling this Smart Growth. This is not smart growth. This is urban sprawl."
The board could not agree to increase commercial space, so after heated debate decided to leave it as proposed, with 77.1 acres - the minimum allowed - devoted to commercial space.
That disappointed Merdon and Kittleman, who would have preferred less housing and 119.8 acres of what they say is badly needed commercial space.