Sixty Dorsey's Search residents heeded the call for a town meeting last night about proposals that would allow apartments and offices in their Columbia village on land without Columbia's strict covenants.
It was a testing of the waters to see how people felt about an idea that comes on the heels of plans for a retail center at Old Annapolis and Columbia roads -- which residents shot out of the water.
This time, people had more questions than opinions, but they seemed to harbor reservations about the idea of crowds of extra neighbors moving in on these outparcels, some of the many islands around which the planned town grew. Some had concerns about traffic congestion and school crowding.
"Some kind of community there would not be out of place, but not high-density," said Barbara Ingber, a village volunteer involved in the earlier zoning battle.
The new suggestions are part of the comprehensive rezoning of Howard County, which happens once every decade and will take nearly a year to complete.
The county Department of Planning and Zoning has recommended that two sections of land in the village be rezoned. Both parcels are now slated for roughly two houses an acre. They sit just south of the village center in the Dorsey Hall area of Dorsey's Search.
On 8.3 acres at Old Annapolis and Columbia roads -- the site of the earlier retail proposal -- the planners recommend a zone that allows 15 residences an acre, generally as apartments, either owned or rented. On 4.5 acres at Columbia Road and Route 108, planners suggest "planned office research" zoning, which permits offices and other uses.
The local Planning Board will hold a hearing March 10, but the County Council is not expected to vote on the changes until the end of the year.
Though the Dorsey's Search Village Board has not taken a position on the proposal, some members clearly are not happy.
Deborah Seate, chairwoman of the board, is concerned about the effect up to 125 new residences would have on an area she said is suffering from traffic backups. She is frustrated that county officials consider traffic and school crowding only after they rezone properties, saying she does not think Howard has a good track record of dealing with those issues in time to meet the demands of new development. She is also very wary of more business zoning in the area.
"It's a series of dominos going down Route 108," she predicted. "The minute one side of Route 108 goes commercial, then as close to [Centennial] Park as they can get, they're going to go commercial. They'll set up a Route 40."
J. Chris Pippen, an Ellicott City developer proposing that the 8.3 acres be rezoned for apartments, said before the meeting that he does not have any specific plans yet but believes the single-family housing zone is outdated in an area directly behind village center.
"This is almost a classic example of an infill parcel that needs to be redeveloped," he said. "I think the thing to concentrate on is what is the proper planning use of those parcels, and I don't think that any development ever proceeds with 100 percent of the people happy 100 percent of the time."
County Councilman Ken Ulman, who represents that area of Columbia and once lived in Dorsey's Search, promised that he would not vote to rezone in the village unless Pippen committed to improving the intersection of Old Annapolis and Columbia Roads, which Ulman said can be dangerous.
He added that while he opposed the retail center proposal, he believes the old homes built along the land in question "are no longer in keeping with this neighborhood."
"I'm going to make sure that whatever is done there -- if anything -- adds value to Dorsey Hall," Ulman said.
Seate hopes everyone who showed up last night will stay the course as comprehensive rezoning unfolds this year.
"It is a marathon, not a sprint," she said.