The task of deciding whether the Howard County Planning Board should approve a contested housing development in historic Ellicott City likely rests on one man's shoulders.
With one member unable to vote yesterday because he had missed testimony, the Howard County Planning Board split, 2-2, on whether to reject plans for the 18-house development known as the Woods at Park Place.
Board member Haskell Arnold, who came in halfway through yesterday's meeting, will cast his vote Oct. 25 after listening to tapes of that meeting and an earlier hearing.
The rest of the board also will vote again, although members did not appear likely to switch sides yesterday.
Ellicott City residents opposing the development - for 18 single-family homes on 15 acres at Church Road and Park Drive - said they were pleased.
"We accomplished a lot of what we were trying to do," said Richard Bright, one of the residents fighting the plans.
David Carney, attorney for the developer, Michael L. Pfau, declined to comment. But he argued in his closing statement that the Woods at Park Place is "consistent" with developments the Planning Board has approved for the historic district.
Although the board's vote was a tie, none of the members supported approving the plans as is. Chairman Gary Kaufman and member J. Landon Reeve voted to deny the proposal, while Joan Lancos, the vice chairwoman, and member Florenzia Davis voted to approve it with changes.
Lancos and Davis wanted less visual impact on Church Road - Lancos suggested building 16 instead of 18 homes - and asked that the road leading to the houses be smaller.
The Historic District Commission, which also must approve development in historic Ellicott City, offered stinging criticism of the Woods at Park Place.
The plans aren't before the commission, but the Planning Board asked for the commission's comments. Commission members recommended Wednesday night that the Planning Board reject the proposal.
"The proposed development will totally dominate its setting and is neither compatible with the historic pattern and rhythm of development of the Church Road area of the Ellicott City Historic District, nor the designation of Church Road and Park Drive as Scenic Roads," the commission wrote in its evaluation.
County subdivision regulations permit up to 20 homes on the land, according to the Department of Planning and Zoning. Department staff members recommended that the board approve the plans.
But Planning Board members who objected to the proposal said 18 houses are too many for the historic district. Although acknowledging that "it does meet certain criteria," Reeve said the project would "destroy" the area's historic value.
"I just have a real concern [about] putting 18 homes in this kind of environment, when it's supposed to be historic," he said. "It doesn't fit."
Lancos said she thought the proposal met all the board's criteria. Among other factors, the development would be placed on parts of the 15 acres that least impact the environment, she said.
"It's going to change that neighborhood," she said. "But is it going to do irreparable harm? I don't think so."
Residents who oppose the plans argued that too many trees would be removed, the development's storm-water management system would harm the environment and increased traffic from 18 homes would negatively affect the character of the area.
"Look beyond the minimum requirements," said Bright, who gave the opponents' closing statement.
The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 25 in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.