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Housing bill garners opposition

The Baltimore Sun

Elkridge residents and several countywide civic groups are marshaling their forces to oppose an Ulman administration bill that would double the number of housing allocations along Howard County's U.S. 1 corridor.

The bill seeks to allow developers to move forward with new homes and businesses that county planners want to help revitalize the sometimes seedy-looking commercial and residential corridor stretching from Elkridge, near Baltimore County, south to North Laurel, near Prince George's County.

Under the measure, the number of allocations available to developers would double from 250 to 500 a year, though no more than 125 could be awarded to any one project. The bill would also expand eligibility to townhouse and apartment projects. Now it is limited to mixed-use projects. County planners could also process project plans while they wait for allocations, another change from current practice.

Some Elkridge residents feel the area has too many new homes.

"The current rate of development is already placing a strain on our infrastructure," said Elizabeth Eggleston of Hanover, who spoke for both the Elkridge Elementary PTA and the Elkridge Landing Middle School PTSA at a County Council public hearing. A planned addition to the elementary school likely will be full by the time it opens, she said, adding that Elkridge's library and fire station are too small, and there is no community center.

"Once again, we have a plan to build homes, but not a plan for infrastructure," said David Marc, a board member of the Greater Elkridge Community Association who spoke for that group. Speakers for the Howard County Citizens Association and the League of Women Voters also oppose the bill.

But Marsha McLaughlin, the county planning director, said large mixed-use projects planned around the Savage MARC train station and in Jessup near Route 175 are stalled. Without county approval of housing allocations - which amounts to county permission to build - they can't get financing for their projects. Currently, the allocations are spoken for in Elkridge until 2017.

"You can't build half of an apartment building if that's all the allocations you have," McLaughlin told the council.

Howard County controls the pace of growth by limiting the number of building permits that can be issued to 1,850 a year, divided among five planning districts. In addition, the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance forces delays of up to four years on projects near overcrowded schools or failing intersections. While the housing slump has cut construction to about 1,200 units a year, Elkridge has been a hot spot for development, and residents believe that the law isn't strong enough. Marc accused County Executive Ken Ulman of abandoning his campaign promise to control growth in order to favor developers.

Carol Filipczak, the league's speaker, urged the council to table the bill for a month, though Sherman Howell, vice president of the African American Coalition of Howard County, urged passage. He sees higher housing density as the way to get more affordable housing for working families.

Council Chairman Courtney Watson, a Democrat who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge, thanked Ulman for approving the addition to Elkridge elementary School, and she told nearly 200 residents that the executive "is trying to find land for a community center and to enlarge the library." She also noted that Elkridge residents don't object to projects in Savage or Jessup, such as the redevelopment of the Aladdin Mobile Home Park. But because the bill applies to the entire U.S. 1 corridor, they are forced to oppose it.

Jud Malone, a developer's consultant on the Aladdin project, said the delays "are strangling the revitalization." Delays of four years or more mean no bank financing, he said.

Watson urged Malone to come up with a way to amend the bill to allow some projects to move forward, without affecting areas like Elkridge. The council will discuss the bill at a work session at 4:30 p.m Tuesday in the George Howard building.

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