Last week, I attended a community meeting at Hammond High School. At issue was the planned construction of a self-storage facility on a parcel that is adjacent to Old Guilford Road, using Old Guilford as its access. The concern was/is that the access to be used is also the same means by which pedestrians and bikers access the Patuxent Branch Trail. Information regarding the Site Development Plan (SDP) can be found here, while the pathway concept proposed by the Department of Planning & Zoning (DPZ) can be found here (from the “Friends of the Guilford Industrial Historic District” Facebook page).

It was a well-attended meeting, including County Executive Kittleman, District 3 County Councilmember Terrasa, DPZ Director Lazdins, Columbia Association (CA) President Matthews, Kings Contrivance Columbia Council Representative Zaret and Village Board Chair Seeley, along with around 70 concerned County residents. It was a lively discussion, with the result being that the developer has agreed to discuss road access options with CA and County Government, with the goal to find a solution that works for all.

While there were a number of issues with the project itself, including the safety of those that use the Trail, environmental concerns, and the effect on the aesthetics of the area, the biggest concern was about the process by which this process was allowed to proceed.  The parcel in question is zoned as M-1 (Manufacturing: Light) under Section 122.0  of the Howard County Zoning Regulations (HCZR); as such, the proposed use is granted as a matter of right, which means that it can proceed without any sort of notification, pre-submission community meeting, etc. I’ve seen similar situations play out during my four-plus years on the Howard County Board of Appeals, as well as during my ten years of advocacy in the areas of County land use, planning, and zoning, and have been frustrated by the HCZR is written in such a way as to make it difficult at times for the communities of our County to have a real voice in the process.

But help is on the way.

Last year, DPZ, under the direction of the County Executive, began a multi-year project called the Development Regulations Assessment initiative, which will involve the redrafting of the HCZR and other land development regulations, policies and manuals into a comprehensive unified development code. Phase I of the project, an assessment of the currently HCZR, was recently completed by the County, working with its consultant Clarion Associates. I was proud to serve on the Steering Committee for this phase, working with the County and Clarion to take community feedback, provide inputs based on my experience in this area, and assist in the development of the Development Regulation Assessment and Annotated Outline, what I like to call our Roadmap to Reform. More on the initiative can be found here.

When I am elected to represent you on the County Council, I will advocate strongly for the execution of Phase II, which is the actual redraft of the HCZR. I’ve spoken with Director Lazdins, who tells me that the solicitation process is underway to retain a Phase II consultant, with the goal of initiating Phase II later this year. I believe this it is critical that our zoning and land development regulations are more streamlined, make logical sense, and are written in such a way that all stakeholders are able to navigate them in order to participate in the process. There will never be a better opportunity to make this right; I am committed to ensuring the completion of this task.

The next Council, specifically in their role as the Howard County Zoning Board, will have a multitude of land use issues to deal with during the upcoming term. Along with Phase II of this initiative, there will be reviews of major impact undertakings such as the Hickory Ridge Village Center Master Plan; Route 1 Master Plan; Laurel Park Station; Columbia Gateway; the continued development of Downtown Columbia; Plan Howard 2040; and Comprehensive Rezoning. A newly-elected Councilmember will most likely be seated as Chair of the Zoning Board, setting the agenda by which the Board operates. With my four-plus years on the Board of Appeals (including serving as Chair), ten years of involvement in Howard County land use, planning and zoning matters, and my professional background in the areas of facility planning, operations and real estate, I am uniquely qualified – and prepared – to lead Howard County on these and other critical issues related to development. I would be honored to serve the County as the next Chair of the Zoning Board.

As always, please feel free to contact me with your thoughts, concerns, etc. Thanks.

~ Steve