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Zoning decision not 'just business' for Howard County residents p2

A property owner has come under fire from the neighborhood after he expanded his plans for his parcel. The property is in Howard County, Maryland, just west of Anne Arundel County, and it had been zoned residential until May 2011. The City Council approved the owner's request to change the zoning to business when he explained that he wanted to add a small café to the property to bring in money during the off months for his existing garden center business.

The project, however, has gotten more complicated. The owner now wants to build two restaurants and a bank to share the lot with the garden center. A group of neighbors accused the owner of a "bait and switch," duping both the zoning board and the neighborhood. Council officials said they knew there was a risk that the scope of the development would change once the zoning was changed and told the residents at a recent meeting that the property owner was within his rights to expand the project. The council would not be overturning their zoning decision.

There are two alternatives, though, for both the council and the neighbors to explore. The property owner has asked for variances -- setbacks on two sides of the triangular lot -- and the residents can file their objections to those. Without the variances, the property owner may not be able to move forward with the larger plan.

A council member suggested that the real problem lies with the Maryland State Highway Administration. One of the reasons the property owner expanded the development was to be able to fund improvements to the roads mandated by the highway department. Perhaps the council could work with the highway department to scale back the improvement project, to make it more affordable for the property owner. Without that expense hanging over him, he may be willing to agree to a project not too far from the original proposal.

The first variance will be discussed at a mid-December meeting. It was not clear who would approach the State Highway Administration or what the timeline would be.

Source: Baltimore Sun, "Garden Center not a 'bait and switch' for Howard Council," Amanda Yeager, Oct. 24, 2013

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