Annapolis Neck growth focus of bill

The Baltimore Sun

Four years after Anne Arundel officials approved a plan to limit growth on the Annapolis Neck, the County Council is dusting it off to codify the provisions.

The bill, introduced by County Executive John R. Leopold and Councilman Joshua Cohen of Eastport, would "downzone" hundreds of acres, reducing the amount of development that can take place.

It would mark the first comprehensive rezoning of the peninsula in a decade.

Leopold said county officials are "long overdue" in recognizing concerns raised in the "small area plan," which a committee of residents and businesspeople produced after five years of discussions.

"This is a county of peninsulas, and it requires an integrated planning initiative that recognizes the interdependence of transportation and growth management," Leopold said. "I'm not going to allow growth to occur where the infrastructure isn't adequate to support that growth."

The Small Area Plan, one of 16 launched around the county starting in 1997, will be factored into the county's updated General Development Plan, a blueprint for growth that is developed once every 10 years, Leopold said. That plan could be completed in the next 12 to 18 months, he said.

Community leaders on the peninsula said the introduction of the bill is overdue, although at least one expressed skepticism that it will be passed.

"They [county officials] have always pooh-poohed concerns about growth and traffic, and it got out of hand," said Donald Walsh, an officer in the Annapolis Roads Property Owners Association.

Scott Mobley, president of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation, said residents have generally supported the Small Area Plan's recommendations.

"It forces any developer to have to live to a higher criteria," Mobley said. "This promises to provide a more controlled, less intense development."

Cohen, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, said in a statement that a majority of the land considered for downzoning is a 604-acre chunk south of Forest Drive, including Childs Point, Melvin/Ferry Point and Persimmon Point. That change would limit development to one house on every five acres, instead of one per acre.

Cohen said the process has taken such a long time, that some other recommendations will need to be disregarded. One section of land off Riva Road recommended for downzoning has since been developed into the Cape St. John community, for example.

Dan Nataf, director of the Center for Local Study at Anne Arundel Community College, said the push to downzone on the peninsula could be aided by having Leopold and Cohen in office.

"We're looking at a fresh start here with new people, and because of that, there are more possibilities for the present," Nataf said. He noted that Leopold and Cohen replace Janet S. Owens and Barbara D. Samorajczyk, respectively.

Samorajczyk, who while in office sought to delay the zoning bill, saying that the traffic impact had not been adequately studied, declined to comment yesterday.

The council scheduled a public hearing on the zoning bill for April 3. One possible side effect of its passage is sending property values for land on the peninsula skyrocketing, said John Pantiledes, a consultant who frequently works for real estate developers.

"It makes everybody feel good, but you're reducing the amount of land available for housing," Pantiledes said. "There are a lot of people in that area that don't realize their home's values are going to be affected."

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