A proposal to rezone parts of Urbana could help provide the density the area needs to draw more and better retail businesses. Or it could further strain school and road systems that some residents believe are already taxed by development.
Those are among the considerations the Frederick County Council will consider as it decides whether to support the proposal.
On Tuesday, the council heard testimony from representatives of Natelli Communities, the developer of the Urbana region, and residents of Urbana and surrounding areas. The hearing at Winchester Hall was a continuation of one that began on Feb. 21.
A vote on the plan is expected at the council’s March 7 meeting.
The proposal would restructure the zoning for three sections of the Urbana region.
It would allow the development of 75 residential units in the Market District, near Urbana Regional Library. The construction could be a mix of town houses and multi-family homes.
The proposal would change land north of Urbana from a zone for employment to residential, but keep the number of homes approved for the area at 610.
About 210 acres to the south would be rezoned from office/research/industrial to mixed use and added to an existing mixed-use area. A 700-home age-restricted development has been proposed for the 210 rezoned acres.
Tom Natelli, the CEO of Natelli Communities, said at the Feb. 21 hearing that the changes were necessary partly because of changes of the market for office space in the Washington region.
There may not be a need for office space in Urbana, but there is a need for school space, said Matt Seubert, an Urbana resident and vice president of Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, a group concerned about development in the southern part of the county.
According to a December memo from Frederick County Public Schools to county staff members reviewing the Urbana proposal, the 75 homes proposed for the Market District likely would generate 30 elementary school students, 10 middle school students, and 11 high school students.
Urbana Elementary School is at 137 percent of its state capacity, and is expected to be well above capacity until both the new Sugarloaf Elementary School and a new Urbana Elementary open in 2020, according to the memo. The new schools are expected to add 927 seats in the area, but more growth at Urbana Elementary and projected growth at Centerville Elementary School likely will take up most of that capacity, the memo said.
Assuming that construction of the Urbana community continues as expected, Urbana Middle School faces a deficit of about 500 seats in 15 years and Urbana High School will face a deficit of nearly 1,000 seats in the same time, the memo said.
Seubert cited the memo as one of his main reasons for opposing the rezoning request.
Steve McKay, a Monrovia resident and the president of RALE, wondered whether the 700 age-restricted homes would stay that way in the future.
McKay said he’s not doubting Natelli’s intention to make the homes age-restricted, but he was concerned that market needs would lead him to request that the age restriction be lifted.
Natelli said he fully intends to proceed with an age-restricted community, and the County Council would have to approve changes to those plans.
Charlie Seymour, who owns the TP Shopping Center and other properties in Urbana, said he’s tried to attract businesses to the area, but often can’t because of the lack of density and walkable parts of the community.
“Unfortunately, certain residential densities need to be achieved before quality retail and office users fall into place,” Seymour said.