Zoning change debate focus

Believe it or not, many of those who live next to Howard County's newest highway, Route 100, love the location. The traffic isn't so loud as you might think, they say, and being so close to the highway cuts down on their commute.

Which is why they can't understand why the owner of two vacant parcels at the intersection of Routes 100 and 103 claims he can't develop the land as housing.


Dr. Ahsan Kahn, owner of a 17 1/2 -acre plot at the northeastern corner of the juncture and a 4 1/2 -acre plot at the southeastern corner, has applied for a zoning change to build office towers on the sites, which are zoned residential.

The lots' proximity to Route 100 makes them unfit for housing, he says, but ideal for offices.


Many residents object to the proposed change, saying office towers would bring more traffic to an overburdened intersection. Building homes on the parcels, they say, would be more consistent with nearby residential neighborhoods.

"It's great living by the ramp. You can hit everything so fast," said Richard Williams, who lives in the Lynwood development on the north side of Route 100. "We love it. Everybody loves 100 here."

On this, the two sides can agree: The fate of the two open parcels will help determine the direction of the fast-growing corridor along Route 100, where subdivisions and commercial development have been vying for dominance since the road opened in 1998.

"I drove down Route 100, and it's not all commercial or all residential - it's really a mixed-use area," county Planning Board Chairwoman Joan Lancos said this week.

State and county officials are lining up on either side of the rezoning dispute, which will be heard by the Zoning Board - made up of the five County Council members - on March 21. The county Planning and Zoning Department endorsed the change, saying the residential zoning assigned to the area in 1993 did not take into account how Route 100 would affect the area.

The State Highway Administration has come out against the change, arguing in a strongly worded letter that office towers could further complicate the juncture of Routes 100 and 103,where the unusual roundabout-style interchange sees lengthy backups at rush hour.

Building an office tower on the northern parcel probably would require a new traffic light on Route 103 (also known as Meadowridge Road), while an office tower on the southern parcel could be reached only by Wesley Drive, a smaller, residential street.

In addition, wrote Kenneth A. McDonald Jr., chief of the state's Engineering Access Permits Division, rezoning the two parcels probably would increase the likelihood that vacant parcels at the other two corners of the intersection would be developed commercially. This, he said, would have "further detrimental impacts on the operation" of the interchange.


Acting partly on these concerns, the county Planning Board last week recommended against the zoning change. Board members rejected Khan's contention that the opening of Arundel Mills mall east of the site and construction of an office complex on what used to be the University of Maryland Horse Farm west of the site provided arguments for a zoning change; those sites, they said, were too far away to be relevant.

"We believed there has been a change in the neighborhood, but the question was whether the change was enough to justify a change in the zoning," said Lancos.

Defending the proposed change at last week's hearing, Khan's lawyer, Richard B. Talkin, said the state's concerns about the traffic impact did not take into account a recent revision in Khan's plans. After meeting with residents who live north of Route 100, Talkin said, Khan and his developer, Donald R. Reuwer Jr., have agreed to construct only one office building on the northern parcel and build 87 units of senior citizen housing on the rest of it.

Neighbors of the southern parcel seized on this concession, saying the addition of a retirement community proved that the parcels could be used for housing.

"Has Route 100 changed the neighborhood? You bet it has, but not the way [Talkin] claims. Route 100 has turned the area into an ideal residential location," said resident Howard Weinstein. "There are scores of existing homes just as close to Route 100 as the Khan parcels."