Plan for area might be ready for rezoning


The long-awaited Ellicott City Master Plan may be completed just in time to be considered in the county's comprehensive rezoning effort this year, the plan's drafters say.

In 2001, Howard County Executive James N. Robey appointed a committee to work on the Ellicott City plan, called for by the 2000 Howard County General Plan.

The group hopes to submit the master plan to him by early next week rather than submit it to the Howard County Council for legislative approval. The Route 1 Corridor Revitalization Study has already been accepted by Robey this way.

"A lot of residents wanted the plan submitted so it could be used in the comprehensive rezoning plan," Ellicott City Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, said yesterday. "For some committee members, that was the driver to go the administrative route rather than the legislative route."

The steering committee met last week and went over the final changes page by page. After Robey receives it, his administration will have a chance to verify that the report is consistent with the general plan, Merdon said.

The current draft of the plan contains recommendations about controversial rezoning issues, including proposals to increase commercial zoning for parts of Montgomery Road, U.S. 40 and Old Frederick Road.

The plan states that the current amount of commercial zoning is adequate for Ellicott City, particularly on Montgomery Road and the historic district.

Merdon has his doubts about that view.

"I don't believe we've done enough research to be able to come to that conclusion," Merdon said. Howard County needs a stable tax base to avoid raising residents' taxes, he said, and there was no analysis of that done for the master plan.

"This is the work of a committee. While a lot of ideas are supported in the plan, not all ideas are embraced by everyone in the committee," Merdon said.

After the plan is approved, individual ideas must be submitted to the County Council before they can be enacted, Merdon noted.

"For those ideas to actually be implemented, you have to go through the legislative process," Merdon said. "Every single idea has to go individually before the council for approval."

More than 45 people helped to draft the Ellicott City plan by serving on subcommittees that drafted reports about development and infrastructure, quality of life, the Ellicott City historic district and U.S. 40.

"It is a document that is the voice of the community," said Janet Kusterer, steering committee member and co-chair of the historic district subcommittee.

But the reports waited in limbo for months as committee members looked for funding from the county and elsewhere to pay a consultant to put the finishing touches on the report, as well as to ensure that it was in line with the general plan.

As comprehensive rezoning loomed, residents began increasing the pressure to get the plan completed and approved.

"Comprehensive rezoning happens every 10 years. If it's done without the guidance of a master plan, it renders the master plan useless" until the next rezoning, said Danny Murray, president of the Ellicott City Residents' Association. The group passed a resolution in January urging the County Council to adopt the Ellicott City Master Plan.

Michael Smith, who was a development subcommittee co-chair, volunteered several months ago to help polish the report and make it uniform. Very little was changed, said Grace Kubofcik, also a development co-chair, who wrote a comprehensive introduction.

"We're just trying to push it through, make sure it got out in the public domain," she said.

Avoiding the legislative process also allows the document to be accepted without major changes by other people, Kusterer said.

"We really have confidence in our document, and we really wanted to get it out there intact," she said.

The last master plan for Ellicott City was written in the 1970s, and it addressed only the historic district area, Bernstein said.

"Some of its recommendations were taken, some weren't taken," he said. "By the time we got to the late '90s, people had forgotten about that document."

He hopes that things will be different for this report.

"I hope that this Ellicott City Master Plan stays out there ... and gets used," Bernstein said.

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