Zoning vote settles 2 issues


The Howard County Council's votes on the comprehensive rezoning bill Monday night ended long-standing conflicts in two communities - including a decision that will allow a Columbia congregation to expand into a megachurch - but left the fates of three mobile home parks unresolved.

Through this once-a-decade process, council members allowed the century-old First Baptist Church of Guilford in Columbia to expand to accommodate its growing congregation.

Church neighbor Oliver Edwards said yesterday he wasn't sure how to react to the council's decision to give First Baptist a new zoning district, which allows it to expand without seeking "conditional-use" permission from the county. He and other residents have said the enlarged church and its traffic would overwhelm their community.

"I think the conditional-use process is the appropriate way to look at these kinds of uses in a residential zone," Edwards said. "I don't think they needed to rezone it to do what they wanted to do."

For Highland in western Howard, decisions came at the very last minute. Representatives from the Greater Highland Crossroads Association and developer Souder Builders Inc. worked all day Monday to develop covenants for approximately 3 acres at Route 108 and Highland Road, where a large funeral home had been proposed.

"They stayed and worked out a deal," western Howard Republican Allan H. Kittleman, whose district includes three of the intersection's four corners, said at the meeting.

"It was a productive day," said west Columbia Democrat Ken Ulman, who represents the fourth corner.

Souder Builders agreed not to use the property for six things allowed under commercial zoning such as a funeral home, day care center or cemetery in exchange for dropping opposition to fixing the boundaries of commercial and residential districts, which did not match property lines.

"This funeral home has been the one thing that no one has wanted," said Dan O'Leary, president of the Greater Highland Crossroads Association. "To have that out of the way in return for support of an additional third of an acre was, we felt, a very fair compromise."

"You have to do what you have to do, I guess," said Donald E. Souder, president of Souder Builders.

"We're just going to have to move forward with something on the commercial side and come up with something new on the residential side," he added.

North Laurel-Savage Democrat and council Chairman Guy Guzzone announced at the Monday meeting that the Highland intersection would be included as part of "comp light," the name county officials have colloquially given an additional comprehensive process that will be conducted in the fall.

Also on the list for comp light is Aladdin Village, a 241-unit mobile home park on U.S. 1, near Route 175. The California-based Carlyle Group wants to redevelop the park, building offices, shops and apartments.

East Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes said yesterday that the extra time would allow the residents and developer to negotiate relocation before a decision is made.

"I just wanted to get the residents in good shape in terms of determining their futures," he said.

"A lot will depend on the outcome of negotiations between residents and the Carlyle Group," Rakes added later.

Council members voted unanimously to continue with industrial district zoning at Pfister's Mobile Home Park in North Laurel rather than switch it to the manufactured housing zone that Pfister's owners had requested.

But the votes are no guarantee that residents will be able to live there indefinitely. In Howard County, parks larger than 25 acres such as Aladdin and Pfister's - if rezoned for mobile homes - can build townhouses or apartments.

"How it is zoned does not change whether or not the park owners have the right to shut down the park," Guzzone said yesterday.

Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Inc. is negotiating with the owners of Pfister's to purchase the property to expand its neighboring ice cream manufacturing plant. Mark Pfister of Pfister's Mobile Home Park said yesterday that he had not reviewed the council's decision and could not comment.

Residents of Ev-Mar Mobile Village in Savage said they were prepared for a "street fight" after the council voted to maintain and extend the park's zoning for mobile homes.

The estate of the former owners is trying to sell the property, but neighbors are organizing to purchase it for use as a housing cooperative.

When the property did not receive zoning for townhouses, resident Lee Branagan said that attorney Richard B. Talkin, who represents the estate, informed residents that the park would close.

Talkin refused to comment on the case.

But receiving notice about the park's potential closure did not phase Branagan, who said the issue is about where residents go in an increasingly tight, expensive housing market.

"We're fully prepared as soon as we get that letter to go right to court," he said.

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