In an article in the Aug. 5 Howard Extra about a proposal to increase the number of housing units for Maple Lawn Farms in southern Howard, developer Stewart J. Greenebaum said 200 people entered a lottery to buy the first 11 completed homes. Linda Ellington, vice president of sales and marketing for Mitchell & Best home builders, said this week that although nearly 200 people initially expressed an interest in those homes, only 44 entered the lottery. (Published 8/12/04)

The developer of Maple Lawn Farms in southern Howard County hopes to add nearly 500 housing units and additional commercial space to the project, angering some nearby residents and touching off another debate about controlling sprawl in the county.

After buying the 94-acre Wessel Farm adjoining Maple Lawn, Stewart J. Greenebaum is asking the county to allow him to expand the development, which was approved four years ago after a grueling public debate.

Greenebaum wants to add 224 townhouses and 242 senior housing units on the newly acquired property to the 1,116 single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums already planned. He also hopes to add 685,000 square feet of office and retail space to the mixed-use development, which is being built on a former turkey farm near Routes 29 and 216 in Fulton.

"Before we had the Wessel property, there was a hole in the doughnut," Greenebaum said of the farm, which is on Route 216. "We do not have any other lands to acquire there. This is a completion of it."

But longtime opponents of the project say they are insulted that Greenebaum is trying to expand Maple Lawn Farms so soon after county officials bucked community opposition and approved the development.

"I think it is outrageous he has the gall to do something like this," said Peter Oswald, a Fulton resident who said he sat through 30 public hearings while trying to block the development in 2000. "It is really frustrating to have the community having fought this thing as long and as hard as it did and for this guy to basically ignore the protest we had and force everyone to reargue this case."

Oswald said he is particularly concerned that the developer wants to increase the project's density by building more townhouses. Those units, Oswald said, would be out of place in an area that has been accustomed to single-family homes on large plots.

"It is just a total disregard for the needs of the community and their wishes," Oswald said.

If Greenebaum's request is approved by the county planning and zoning boards, the density of the Maple Lawn project will increase from 2.3 to 2.7 housing units per acre.

In 2000, the county zoned the Maple Lawn land to accommodate up to three housing units per acre. So Greenebaum is hoping to avoid the contentious debate that has surrounded other proposed developments, most notably Rouse Co.'s plans to increase housing density around Merriweather Post Pavilion. The zoning board denied that request this year.

"This is not a rezoning case," Greenebaum said, noting that he is only asking the county to approve his "preliminary development plan."

That plan, Greenebaum says, dovetails with county and state efforts to limit sprawl by focusing development in designated growth areas. Although it was zoned for agricultural use until the early 1990s, the area around Maple Lawn Farms is now earmarked to accommodate development.

The land has public water and sewer service, and the county has spent millions of dollars to build three schools and upgrade roadways. Because the project envisions 1 million square feet of office space, Greenebaum said it will attract home buyers who want to live near their workplace.

"Developments such as Maple Lawn are anti-sprawl," Greenebaum said. "You make those areas receptive to growth more dense and you take the pressure off other areas."

County Council member Ken Ulman (D-West Columbia), who serves on the zoning board with the other council members, said he wants to hear the details of the proposed expansion before forming a final opinion. But Ulman said, in theory, a denser Maple Lawn Farms makes sense.

"You could argue it is one of the best examples of smart growth with regard to the infrastructure already being in place," Ulman said. "The choice is, are you going to allow moderate growth of new residential units where you want them or do you want them way out west in areas you have not designated that do not have the infrastructure?"

But Oswald said the proposed expansion fails to meet the criteria for smarter growth because it fails to account for its potential impact, particularly with other development in the area. Already, he said, the roads around Maple Lawn Farms are crowded, and new schools are approaching capacity.

And, he said, allowing the new units will only add to the traffic congestion along Route 29 in Montgomery County.

Because of county limits on new building permits, the developer of Maple Lawn Farms can only build 120 units a year. So the project will take more than a decade to complete. Greenebaum said the senior housing units, catering to Howard County's growing over-60 population, are not slated to be built until 2014.

Greenebaum described the proposed townhouses, which are slated to be between 2,400 and 3,000 square feet and cost at least $500,000, as "sort of the Georgetown or Mount Vernon type of townhouse," referring to the Baltimore neighborhood.

Greenebaum said single-family homes built during the initial phase are selling quickly. He said 200 people entered a lottery to buy the first 11 homes, which sold for $630,000 on average.

"We could sell them all in a year if you could build them that fast," he said.