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Councilmen edge closer to agreement on housing bills

Howard County Council members moved closer to agreement on several sensitive housing bills, plus another measure proposing a ban on roadside vendors, at a work session late yesterday.

Two possible changes might resolve a dispute over a proposal that failed once before, to require at least 50 units instead of 20 to qualify for a special zoning approval for age-restricted adult housing.

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Residents in older, single-home communities have complained that builders using the 20-unit minimum could squeeze them on small parcels of land incompatible with existing homes. But advocates of the housing fear that requiring a 50-unit minimum would sharply reduce opportunities for building age-restricted housing.

Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican and sponsor of the bill, suggested an amendment to temporarily stop approval of any such projects with fewer than 50 units proposed after April 7, until a new senior-housing master plan has been written for the county.

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'"I think the biggest issue here is notification and predictability" for residents of older communities, Merdon said, noting that the amendment "would be a moratorium" on such developments under 50 units.

Guzzone amendment

Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, proposed another amendment that would impose the 50-or-more minimum only in three zones for single-family homes.

Later, both said they likely would agree on some combination of the two ideas by the time the council votes on the idea Oct. 7.

A seemingly popular bill sponsored by Merdon and Councilman David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat, to allow renovation of older homes in established neighborhoods to help satisfy the county's requirement for moderate-income housing in new developments, raised several eyebrows during the work-session discussion.

Approval of concept

The county Housing and Community Development Board approved the concept, provided that no more than 20 percent of new moderate-income homes were drained off from any single project.

However, Guzzone and Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat, questioned the potential profits that the bill would create.

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It would allow someone to buy a run-down house, completely renovate it and sell it to the county for moderate-income housing. Then the county certificate saying that the house qualifies as moderate-income housing could be sold to a developer on the open market.

Instead of building a $140,000 house, a developer could build a $400,000 unit by buying the certificate.

"I know what business I'm going into," Guzzone said at one point.

"I don't have a problem with some profit," Ulman said, adding that he also doesn't want to create a "windfall."

But the sponsors, supported by Leonard S. Vaughan, the county housing director, argued that the goal is to create more affordable housing and to remove eyesore homes from older neighborhoods, not to regulate profits.

'Exclusionary zoning'

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Sherman Howell, speaking for the African American Coalition of Howard County, opposed the bill at last week's hearing, labeling it "exclusionary zoning" because he feels it would prevent moderate-income homes - costing under $160,000 - from being built in western Howard County.

Another bill, which would give the county housing authority the right to build units, will be amended to apply only to the county-built, owned and operated Hilltop Housing complex in Ellicott City, where officials want to add 25 units of public housing for seniors.

Roadside vendors bill

Amendments also were suggested for Ulman's bill that would ban roadside vendors - a measure supported at the meeting by county Police Chief Wayne Livesay.

"We've been grappling with this issue for years," Livesay said, noting that the county police don't enforce existing laws on vendors because they are too difficult to prosecute.

Ulman said he would consider an amendment to allow nonprofit groups such as volunteer firefighters to raise money.

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He also seemed open to an idea from Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, to regulate permits for such activity through the Police Department rather than banning it altogether.


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