In the end, after more than a year of intense debate, Maple Lawn Farms might not look much different than it did at the beginning.
Last night, the Howard County Zoning Board voted 3-2 to approve a modified plan - an ever-so-slightly modified plan - for the mixed-use development on 508 acres of farmland in Fulton.
The plan, proposed by Democrat Guy J. Guzzone of North Laurel/Savage, would cut the number of homes in the project by 52 - to a total of 1,116 - and leave commercial space at the same 77 acres.
The three Democrats on the Zoning Board, which in Howard County doubles as the County Council, voted for Guzzone's proposal. The two Republicans, who favor fewer homes and more commercial space, voted against it.
Developer Stewart J. Greenebaum has one week to respond to the board's request for modifications. He had no comment last night.
The board is scheduled to hold its next work session on Maple Lawn Farms on Oct. 2.
The project has inspired intense debate from the beginning. Some say the mixed-use development will help fight suburban sprawl, while others call it the epitome of sprawl. Some praise it as Smart Growth, while others say it is the opposite. They see nothing smart about putting large numbers of homes, including townhouses and condominiums, in an area of the county that now has mostly single-family homes.
Republicans Allan H. Kittleman, of western Howard County, and Christopher J. Merdon, of Ellicott City, criticized Guzzone's proposal, saying it was too similar to what the developer had proposed. They favored even fewer homes and increased employment space. In June, they had proposed decreasing the number of homes by 152 units and increasing the employment area to about 120 acres.
Merdon pointed out that the current proposed employment area is only about 15 percent of the total project - in his view, not nearly enough.
"If we had 15 percent countywide, our property taxes would go through the roof," he said. "I don't believe that this reduction is modest. I think it's minimal at best. People who live around this community will feel no change in their lifestyle."
Many of the more than 30 residents, who attended last night's meeting, agreed.
"This wasn't a compromise," said Peter Oswald, vice president of the Greater Beaufort Park Citizens Association and an outspoken opponent of the project. "This was basically giving the developer what he wanted."
Oswald, like many residents in the area, worries the development will overwhelm roads and schools.
But not all Howard County residents want fewer housing units.
Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, said his group favors more density because members see a need for more affordable housing in the community - a view shared by Democratic Zoning Board members Mary C. Lorsung of west Columbia and C. Vernon Gray of east Columbia.
An anti-sprawl group called 1,000 Friends of Maryland also recently announced support for more density, saying it would place housing units and commercial buildings in the eastern part of the county, where the infrastructure of roads, schools and public utilities support them.
Guzzone said he wanted to reduce houses to increase the project's compatibility with surrounding neighborhoods. He said he opposed increasing the footage of commercial space because he believes it would do the opposite.
His plan included some items that the Zoning Board and the developer had agreed to - phasing requirements that restrict the number of units that can be built per year and a roads test that ensures area roads are ready for the development before building can begin. The developer also has agreed to provide 100 units of affordable housing.