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Group backs project density


A statewide anti-sprawl advocacy group announced yesterday its opposition to decreased density at Maple Lawn Farms, a 508-acre mixed-use development proposed for Fulton in southern Howard County.

Members of 1000 Friends of Maryland, a nonprofit group based in Baltimore, said reducing the density of the development would cause more sprawl elsewhere. They voiced concern that statewide development proposals are being downsized to placate angry residents in opposition to Smart Growth policies.

"This is somewhat of a poster child for a disturbing trend we're seeing across the state," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends, at a news conference at the Route 216 Park & Ride in Fulton. She said counties are not fulfilling their promises to concentrate growth in planned areas and curb sprawl.

The group supports Howard County's maximum allowable density at the site: 3.0 dwelling units per acre. Developer Stewart J. Greenebaum had proposed 2.3 dwelling units per acre, but a recent proposal by Howard County Councilmen Allan H. Kittleman of western Howard and Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City would have reduced the density to 2.0 dwelling units per acre.

The Howard County Zoning Board next meets for a work session on Maple Lawn Farms at 6 p.m. Sept. 20 in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

Schmidt-Perkins said the state has invested more than $21 million in roads alone to support the high density planned for southern Howard in the county General Plan. Lowering the density of Maple Lawn Farms, she said, would decrease the returns on that investment. Fewer people would drive on the roads. Fewer would ride improved transit service to the area. Fewer could live and work there.

"We simply do not have enough money to waste that way," she said.

The group does not want Maple Lawn Farms to go the way of Honeygo, a planned community in Baltimore County that went from an original proposal of 11,000 units to 4,800 after citizens protested.

John W. Taylor, past president of Howard Countians for Responsible Growth, said he disagrees with the group's stance. He and other project opponents believe higher-density housing will overwhelm area roads and schools.

"These people sound like the thousand enemies of common sense," he said. "They also sound like a bunch of busybodies who are inserting themselves where they shouldn't be."

Taylor, who lives on a 3-acre lot in western Howard, said he doesn't believe Smart Growth is all it's cracked up to be.

"Smart Growth, I've found, is really a bunch of nonsensical sound bites," he said. "It's not a sound policy. It doesn't stand up to scrutiny."

Although 1000 Friends of Maryland does not endorse development projects, Schmidt-Perkins said, the group does review proposals and offer comments to developers occasionally. She said Greenebaum, who has not given any money to the group and is not a member, asked 1000 Friends this year to look at his proposal and give feedback.

After reviewing Greenebaum's plans for the site, the Transportation and Land Use Committee of 1000 Friends:

Suggested the county consider planning for commuter or light rail access through the corridor and suggested more walkways and bicycle paths.

Determined the development was compatible with surrounding neighborhoods, especially as it is arranged so the lowest densities are next to surrounding neighborhoods.

Saw a need to improve the arrangement of uses, minimize surface parking lots and increase the intensity of commercial activity.

Suggested that the development could ultimately bolster property values in the area.

Gary Anderson, a 1000 Friends board member and an architect and planner who serves as an adjunct faculty member with the Johns Hopkins School of Professional Studies in Business and Education, warned against veering from the General Plan's high density proposed for the area.

"We believe that when County Council persons tinker with parts of the county's plan, while ignoring the relationship of parts to the whole, the planning process is circumvented," Anderson said. "Time and money spent on the planning process will have been wasted. Innovative developers who understand the requirements of successful, sustainable, managed growth will be discouraged from attempting anything other than the status quo. And the sprawl that the county's plan was intended to curtail will proceed unabated."

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, attended the news conference and said he agreed with the nonprofit's comments about the project.

"It sounded like the staff report," he said. "I'm thrilled. I couldn't agree more."

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