Howard Council Overrides Commercial Zoning Veto

At a recent meeting, the Howard County Council overrode the county executive’s commercial zoning veto in a 4-1 vote. According to The Baltimore Sun, the veto is of a

zoning measure that significantly reduces commercial requirements and fees paid-in-lieu in the Corridor Activity Center, one of the county’s most heavily changed districts in along Route 1.

Council Chairman Calvin Ball had introduced the measure on behalf of Atapco Howard Square I Business Trust, which said commercial space would “sit vacant and unoccupied” under the current rules. The change impacts Howard Square, a mixed used project southeast of Port Capital Drive in Elkridge; and Blue Stream, also in the Route 1 corridor.

“There is a half-completed development,” Ball said, adding it was unreasonable to require commercial buildings that could remain vacant. Councilman Jon Weinstein echoed Ball’s concerns, saying failed commercial attempts undermine attempts to revitalize the district.

A major amendment to the measure, which slashes the amount of commercial space required for developments with more than 800 units by more than half, along with a host of other changes, came under fire for quietly averting vetting from the public, the zoning department and the administration.

County Executive Allan Kittleman, who vetoed the measure on the grounds the public and the zoning department did not have an opportunity to discuss an amendment that significant changed the bill, said he was disturbed the council did not feel the public should discuss the changes openly and transparently.

Councilman Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican who cast the lone dissenting vote, plans to take the issue to a referendum, citing “grave concerns” about “backroom discussions” that resulted in a set of rules that “mysteriously dropped fees” to substantially benefit the developer.

The Department of Planning and Zoning met with the developer’s attorney before the council’s vote last month, but did not have adequate time to provide major input to the council, according to the department’s director, Valdis Lazdins.

Despite the vote, council members raised impassioned concerns about endemic problems in the Corridor Activity Center district, requiring a reexamination of a district that some said failed to live up to its purpose as a pedestrian-friendly urban center.

Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, who originally voted against the measure, said the district requires a rehaul she hopes to jumpstart by filing for additional zoning changes. Terrasa said the county has “already been down the slippery slope” created by changes to the district.

To read the full article on Howard County’s zoning, visit The Baltimore Sun online.