Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Comprehensive Rezoning and Development

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, June 7, 2006

This is a dry subject and I don't expect many readers to stick with this post for very long, but I have a couple of thoughts I wanted to put down.

Hayduke has been writing about this a lot lately and has gotten some comments.

Here is the thing.  The zoning process in Howard County needs to be changed.

In my opinion the best change that could be made is to take the politics out of the zoning process.  That may mean taking the zoning board responsibilities away from the County Council.  I don't know if that is possible.  See Hayduke's "Developing a new way…"

Now the Sun reported today on a plan or idea put forth by the three democrats on the County Council "10 Year Zoning Change Offered".

Like Merdon (R) and Beltram (D), I am happy that they also recognize a need for change.  However, I wonder how much of it is election year posturing.  We will find out after November if elected officials follow through on changing the process.

To Merdon's point:

Merdon said that if Ulman and Guzzone hadn't tried to rezone a St. John's Lane church property for a planned expansion instead of allowing it to go through the normal conditional use process, "the Comp Lite bill wouldn't be on the ballot today."

I would suspect Beltram agrees with Merdon's sentiments as she drove the ballot issue.  Remember, Merdon was the only one to vote against that expansion and repeatedly warned he would vote against it – and he kept his word.

Even County planning director Marsha S. McLaughlin said "the goal makes sense," though "there's a lot of logistics involved" and staffing is a big issue. "I need to think it through," she said.

So, it seems as though everyone is in agreement.  It is time for a change.  But this quote stuck out:

James R. Schulte, president of Security Development, a major county developer, also liked the ideas.

"I think it makes a lot of sense," he said about dividing the county into smaller planning areas. However, he said mediation may not be as necessary because developers already consult with residents.

Some do so with great enthusiasm.  Most others meet the bare requirements.

Howard Weinstein, a past president of the Pembroke Homeowners Association, which is one of Taylor's clients, called the proposals "an improvement." and "I think they need to make it a charrette-type process like they did in Columbia," he said, noting that Ulman has said that could be a model for other planning efforts

I am all for community driven planning, but the Columbia Charrette process is only a model – and it needs improvement.

Ulman and Robey brought General to the table by holding the big box development hostage.  When General was about to file a formal complaint Ulman and Robey started talking.  In exchange for killing big box and saving Merriweather they gave the bank away by allowing massive increases in density in downtown, which led to the Charrette process we know today.

This spells huge profits for General.  The County is picking up the tab for infrastructure development – and since they gave the bank away the County is going to tax, tax, tax to pay for the infrastructure improvements (which no one is talking about in any detail at all).

I have posted previously on the Charrette process "Dreyers Ice Cream and Town Center".  Basically it comes down to this.  Great concepts, great vision, great pictures but it is built on the existing infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, etc) and very little thought has gone into how to manage such density.

Did you know that the County only had budgeted $80K to spend on traffic studies for the entire County.  They blew through that budget before they got to the Charrette.  Don't tell me they have an adequate plan for traffic movement in downtown Columbia.  As far as I am concerned they only have 1/2 a plan.

I hope that is not what we will see when our zoning processes change.  Hayduke says this is a major theme of Josh Feldmark's campaign.  I hope so.  If Feldmark means it he needs to challenge the problems with the Charrette process as Tom D'Asto is doing.  I have my doubts given his very close association with Ken Ulman and I don't think Feldmark will ever be critical of Ulman's pet project – no matter how flawed it is.


3 Responses to “Comprehensive Rezoning and Development”

  1. Hayduke said

    Ulman and Robey brought General to the table by holding the big box development hostage. When General was about to file a formal complaint Ulman and Robey started talking. In exchange for killing big box and saving Merriweather they gave the bank away by allowing massive increases in density in downtown, which led to the Charrette process we know today.

    This spells huge profits for General. The County is picking up the tab for infrastructure development – and since they gave the bank away the County is going to tax, tax, tax to pay for the infrastructure improvements (which no one is talking about in any detail at all).

    Wow! These paragraphs are so wrong I’m not even sure if they can be salvaged. And these aren’t misguided opinions I’m disagreeing with, these are wrongly-stated assertions paraded out as facts. These are not the facts as they happened, but you state them as such in an attempt to discredit your political foes.

    The first paragraph in particular shows you have a tenuous (at best) understanding of what happened in Columbia over the last few years. Ulman and Robey didn’t stop big box. Big box isn’t even where it started. It started with residential — 1600 new units for TC. GGP’s initial petition was denied by the Zoning Board — which includes both Ulman and Merdon but not Robey. But the ZB only denied it because half of Columbia showed up for the marathon hearings raising bloody hell about GGP’s lack of a plan and unclear intentions for TC.

    Spurned by citizens and public officials, GGP decided to try to “stick it to” the citizens by proposing big box for TC. Predictably, the citizens revolted again, and GGP was about to be denied once more — this time by the Planning Board — when people started talking about a charrette. Before the charrette movement really gathered steam, however, GGP decided to host its own charrette-lite. Following this, the county initiated its own far-more-inclusive charrette process. And in the interim, GGP decided to put on hold its Big Box case (that’s right, big boxe is still on the table — they could open up their case if they don’t like the finished TC master plan).

    By the way, Merriweather isn’t saved, either, as much as I’d like it to be. GGP has done nothing (other than issue platitudes) to indicate that they will preserve it. No long-term contract for IMP. No formal proclimation. No deed restrictions. They could close it down after this year if they want.

    Also, GGP hasn’t received massive increases in downtown density. They might. But you better be damn sure that if they do, the county’s getting something in return. The whole School-site discussion between me and Evan was about this precisely — that is, what do we make GGP give us for the bounty we’re giving them. And certainly, the massive increases in density did not lead to the charrette, but rather are a potential outcome of it.

    And what do you mean nobody is talking about infrastructure improvements? Isn’t that all the Focus Group talks about?

    You admit at the top that this is a “dry” subject that probably won’t be of interest to many readers. Judging by your handle of the “facts,” the only interest you seem to have in the topic is trying to make Ulman look bad.

    Ulman’s zoning proposal has pros and cons. There are also good and bad things about the current state of the master plan for downtown Columbia. If you want to discuss either of these on their merits, that’s great. We benefit from such discussions. If you want to find ways to score political points while having this discussion, that’s fine too. Just don’t resort to falsehoods and distortions.

    I didn’t mean to rant about this. But I’ve spent the better part of my free time over the last three years devoted to Merriweather and Town Center and I can’t let such gross inaccuracies slide. Yes, I’m a little touchy. No, I haven’t had my caffine.

  2. Anonymous said

    Regarding Mr. Ulman’s involvement in the Crescent Property and the Columbia Town Center Charette. To understand what is currently happening with the Charette and the proposal for a Town Center Master Plan, one must understand the history of events that have led up to this point. The Crescent Property is located next to Merriweather Post Pavillion. It was the part of a proposed rezoning request by the Howard Research and Development Corporation, to increase density for Columbia New Town above what was originally approved back in the 1960’s when Columbia was first started. That rezoning request was denied by the Zoning Board. HRD then submitted a Sketch Plan for the Crescent Property based on the existing, approved, land use classifications for Columbia, for a proposed mix of retail, office, and residential uses. That plan is within the scope of the originally approved zoning plan for Columbia New Town that was granted to Jim Rouse, and as such, HRD was allowed to do it “by right” and the Planning Board should have approved it. As the Planning Board reviewed the plan, you Mr. Ulman, worked behind the scenes, to block approval of the plan, since Sketch Plans are not subject to approval by the Zoning Board. I was told by staff in the Office of Law, that Mr. Ulman and Mr. Guzzone had given instructions to find ways to delay the scheduling of hearings for as long as possible (HELD THEM HOSTAGE). The Planning Board obliged your request by spreading out hearings for up to 6 weeks instead of scheduling separate hearings every two weeks as had always been the custom of the Board when dealing with cases that needed continuances. It is also imperative to point out Planning Board members vociferously denounced the traffic study that was presented by HRD, as being “biased” in favor of the Petitioner, and they decried the amount of additional traffic that would be generated by the proposal, citing traffic problems as their main concern with the plan. At last check, HRD withdrew the plan, without any official action having been taken by the Board.

    Now forward to what has been happening with the Columbia Charette, which was contrived by you Mr. Ulman. The Charette culminated in a proposed master plan to allow upwards of 5,500 additional residences in Town Center, and several million square feet of additional office and retail space. That amount of development is several times the amount proposed under the Crescent Property Sketch Plan. Yet, the Planning Board recommended approval without indicating any concerns about traffic. How is it that Mr. Ulman and the Planning Board, who had such strong objections to the amount of development proposed under the Crescent Property Sketch Plan, could push forward and approve a plan that proposes significantly more development and traffic?

    There is only one explanation. The fact is, that the outcome of the charette was already pre-determined before it even started by you, Mr. Ulman, and Mr. Guzzone, and even Mr. Robey.

  3. hocomd said


    I guess GGP is waiting for the new density before they take Merriweather off the hook?

    Why no comments on the current road/traffic study, or rather lack of? How cound the planning board make a recommendation without a traffic study? What about water and sewer? How coulnd the planning board make a recommendation without knowing the impact of such density on such infrastructure. Oh yes, and who is going to pay for this massive density?

    Ludicrous. Simply Ludicrous.

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