HoCo By Design Aims to Increase Density, Eliminate Open Space

Every 10 years Howard County is required to develop a general plan that provides a big-picture vision about the long-term future of the County. That process is happening now. The new general plan being drafted, called HoCo By Design, will establish clear policies on how and where the County will develop and grow as it adjusts to economic, environmental, and social conditions.

This is a big deal. It is important that HoCo By Design reflects the will of the residents of the Village of River Hill. Our voices matter. On January 25, the RHCA Board of Directors passed by unanimous consent a working document and letter to the Columbia Association Board of Directors and the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning raising specific concerns about the vision this plan creates for the potential doubling of the population of Columbia and the transformation of the character of the Village Centers. Historically, Columbia, including its Open Space and neighborhood concept, have been protected by legislation that created the community called “New Town Zoning.” That could end.

Columbia Association includes nine villages and Town Center that were developed by Jim Rouse beginning in the mid-1960s. The villages were designed to be medium to low density consisting of single-family dwellings, townhouses, and apartment homes. Revolutionary for its time, it was the mix of and proximity of different housing choices. However, Jim Rouse did not stop there. With an emphasis on the quality of life for its residents and respect for the environment, Columbia’s Open Space was codified in the New Town Zoning legislation. Home buyers, since the inception of Columbia, have bought into this concept of pathways, playgrounds, and pools. It was Rouse’s vision to build a “better suburban community,” and he did.

HoCo By Design abandons New Town Zoning, with plans of transforming the Village Centers to “activity centers.” Big-box stores, such as the River Hill Giant, would be ousted and replaced with smaller, boutique retail shops located beneath multi-story apartment buildings that would line our streets and require various forms of parking. This would increase neighborhood traffic, and the residents of River Hill could be forced to shop for their groceries and other necessities at locations outside of the Village.

The density of Columbia was established at a hard cap of 2.5 units per acre at its inception, and this has yielded a population of 100,000+ today. The HoCo By Design Draft General Plan could cause the population of Columbia to double in the coming decades. The current draft fails to address how the hard cap of 2.5 units per acre will be addressed. One of HoCo By Design’s stated goals is “more equitable, more predictable, more sustainable, and more achievable aims for the County and all of its residents.” However, Howard County is currently a suburban community without adequate schools, hospitals, and emergency services. It is a county that for too long has allowed development to continue while our children attend schools in portable classrooms and patients sit in the hospital’s emergency waiting room with medical care being dispensed in public.

HoCo By Design will cause the loss of Open Space and deforestation of the tree canopy. This is counter to the 2018 Chesapeake Bay Program that includes protecting and expanding the upstream riparian zones. Protection of the Chesapeake Bay is a very important feature for the ecology and economy of the State of Maryland. One of the goals of the residents of Howard County should be the protection of the Chesapeake Bay and its vast watershed of which we are a part. Historic Ellicott City was developed without adequate water management systems in place, and floods in recent years have caused the destruction of multiple properties and the loss of human lives. The residents of River Hill should encourage their elected officials to learn from past catastrophic events and plan better.

The River Hill Community Association Board of Directors (RHCABOD) has been following the HoCo By Design concept, and discussions have raised specific concerns and issues. The RHCABOD has sent a letter stating their concerns to the Columbia Association and the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning. You can read the entire letter here:

BOD Comments on HoCo By Design

The River Hill Board has placed HoCo By Design on its February 7 Board Meeting Agenda and is inviting your comments during Resident Speak Out. The Board further requests that residents contact the Department of Planning and Zoning and Councilwoman Deb Jung to comment on HoCo By Design.