Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Neighbors upset by proposal to rezone Old Town homes

Critics fear change could enable unwanted development

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A proposed ordinance that would change the zoning classification on two homes in Laurel to multi-family use has prompted a group of neighbors to petition and speak against the measure at City Council meetings.

The majority of the zoning changes would protect open spaces — such as zoning McCullough Field as green space — which would prevent any future construction on the baseball field.

But zoning changes on two specific properties have caused concern — the houses at 203 Stanley Place and 312 Prince George St. The houses are currently zoned for single-family use, but they now house boarders. The amendment would change the zoning to multi-family to conform to their current use.

The City Council is considering the ordinance, which would change the zoning on about 10 to 15 parcels of land throughout the city to bring them into accordance with their current uses, such as zoning for green space or commercial use, said Karl Brendle, director of the city’s Business and Community Planning. The ordinance was prompted by the 2007 passage of the city’s master plan — a legal document updated every 10 years that guides the city’s future development goals.

‘‘The purpose of the ordinance is just to sort of clean up non-conforming uses and make them conforming uses,” Council President Frederick Smalls (Ward 2) said. ‘‘The council has had an opportunity to talk among ourselves about this particular property and we’re going to respond appropriately based on what the citizens have said.”

The measure is likely to come up for vote on Monday, but Smalls declined to indicate what action the council would take, saying only ‘‘We’re going to respond appropriately to our community.”

Mel Bosley has lived next door to the Stanley Place property for 40 years. He has rallied his neighbors and started a petition against the measure — he has 32 signatures so far.

‘‘These properties join together. If someone came in and purchased both properties, townhouses or some other modifications could be constructed,” Bosley said.

Given the current regulations and the measurements of the properties, Brendle said that is highly unlikely. But residents are more concerned with future mayors and city councils, who might be more interested in pushing new development.

‘‘At the present time I feel [the city] is sincere in that they’re not going to allow a townhouse or something like that to be done,” Bosley said. ‘‘Those politics change and those council members change, so the policies could change.”

Residents at the Jan. 14 and Jan. 28 City Council meetings have spoken against the measure. Sandra Manak, who has lived across the street from the Stanley Place property for 26 years, spoke against the ordinance during the Jan. 28 City Council meeting. She is worried about compromising the historic character of the neighborhood of single-family homes.

Her home originally housed three families, but she converted it back to single-family use when she bought it.

‘‘If you change the zoning, you sort of discourage people from doing that,” she said.

Manak and other neighbors aren’t worried about the current owners converting their houses. The Stanley Place property currently houses the owner’s niece, for example. ‘‘But you never know who the next people are,” Manak said.

Residents still have an opportunity to speak for or against the measure at a public hearing during Monday’s City Council meeting.