Dozens of Howard County property owners learned the final verdict on how they may use their land as the County Council took a long, sometimes confusing series of votes last night, but for others the waiting will continue.
In what council Chairman Guy Guzzone called an attempt to "be quick but careful," the fates of nearly 200 properties were decided in a huge rezoning bill.
In addition, the council banned roadside vendors on a 3-2 party-line vote, and unanimously approved a lucrative deferred pension program for county police officers.
The council's two Republicans, Allan H. Kittleman and Christopher J. Merdon, said they wanted more time to examine the pension bill's long-term fiscal impact, but voted for it anyway on assurances of Robey administration officials that it will be cost-neutral.
The council voted unanimously to approve a new, larger First Baptist Church of Guilford - one of Howard County's most contentious land-use issues over the past five years.
The night's big victory was won by a determined group of Ellicott City residents who for six years have fought to prevent more commercial development along Montgomery Road, across from the Long Gate Shopping Center, east of U.S. 29.
Homeowners along that strip have said that trash, traffic and noise from the shopping center make the area an unbearable place to live, and they wanted to stop the spread of commercial development to other parts of Montgomery Road.
The council approved a mix of residential zones for the area that would allow owners to sell their property for development of townhouses, clustered single-family homes and housing for seniors, and still allow the YMCA there to expand.
Cathi Higgins, a founder of Montgomery Road Citizens for Responsible Growth, happily hugged supporters in the hallway outside the council chambers in the George Howard building.
The votes "keep it residential, and we believe residential [zoning] is responsible growth," she said. "It will help preserve the future."
"We'll try to make it work," said J. Chris Pippen, a developer who represents a number of landowners along the strip of road.
The comprehensive rezoning bill covering more than 3,000 acres is part of a year-long, once-a-decade process that allows the county to re-examine land use and future growth. Most of the changes are concentrated along the U.S. 1 corridor, implementing the goals of the Route 1 Revitalization Study.
In approving zoning that would allow First Baptist to expand without special permission, council members praised the church's role in the community.
"I am just hopeful that the folks from Guilford Baptist Church continue to work with their neighbors," Kittleman said.
"It's a decision. It's not about who won or lost. It's a time to work together. It's a time to reconcile," said, the Rev. John L. Wright, First Baptist's pastor, referring to years of disputes with neighbors over the church's plans to expand.
For other property owners, however, comprehensive rezoning is not over. The council also voted on which properties to consider after more study in an additional comprehensive rezoning process.
The council planned to look at several other rezoning issues next fall to use the results of the expected Route 40 Enhancement Study to guide decisions on almost 20 properties from the Baltimore County border to Turf Valley Road.
"I want to stress this is it. There will not be additional requests," said Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat. Among the additional issues to be considered in the fall are:
More than 27 acres of the Braun property at the southwest corner of Routes 103 and 100 in Elkridge, where the owner requested zoning that would allow offices, restaurants and senior housing.
Proposed increases in density in the planned golf course community district, which covers Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center in Ellicott City.
About 5 acres at Freetown Road and Cedar Lane, across from Hickory Ridge Village Center in Columbia, where zoning for a pharmacy and office building was requested. Last night, the council voted down a request for commercial zoning there.
Aladdin Village mobile home park on U.S. 1 near Route 175, where owners hoped to create a mixed-use district with offices, shops and apartments.
Police pension OK'd
In other action, the police pension bill approved by the council will give the county's 275 police officers a deferred pension option once they have 25 years' seniority.
Merdon and Kittleman said they wanted to support the police, but worried that the zoning issues have taken so much time that they did not have the opportunity to study the bill's costs.
"I'm not opposed to the ... program per se," Kittleman said. "I'm worried it will hurt the county in the long term."
Merdon said that he, too, favored holding the bill for a month, but the three Democrats were determined to approve it, and the Republicans also voted for it.
"We have to reward the police," said east Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes.
The pension plan is similar to those in other counties. Under the Howard plan, officers with 25 years' experience could agree to work three or four more years, freezing their pension at the 25-year level. When they stop working, they would get their accrued additional pension as a cash lump sum.
The idea is to help retain veteran officers for a set amount of time, reducing recruiting needs, while giving the officers a cash incentive. Because they agree to a 25-year pension and continue paying 11.6 percent of their salary into the retirement fund while they continue working, the plan will have no long-term added cost to the county, officials have said.
Vendors voted down
There was no discussion last night before the 3-2 party-line vote on banning roadside vendors.
Several peddlers who sell produce, hot dogs and flowers testified Jan. 20 that all should not be punished because of complaints about a noisy snowball truck operated near Dorsey Hall Village Center and people who solicit cash for charity at several intersections.
At that hearing, produce vendor Jim Lerch, hot dog vendor Steve Waters, and flower vendor Larry Bogart, all Howard residents, asked the council to defeat the bill.
"My business is my only income," Waters said about his hot dog stand that serves mostly truck drivers on Marriottsville Road, near the county's Alpha Ridge Landfill.
Bogart said he has operated his flower stand at Snowden River Parkway and Oakland Mills road for nine years without problems. By selling roses for $5 or $6 a dozen, he is "solving problems" for men of modest means who want to be nice to their wives, he said.
Lerch, who hires foreign students to sell produce from a fleet of old pickup trucks around the county, said his operations have never caused an accident in 20 years.
"If this bill does pass, we will basically be out of business," he said.