WESTMINSTER - They like their quiet neighborhoods where children can play on streets without much traffic. They enjoy looking out their windows at open fields to see deer and other wildlife.
And they definitely don't mind driving an extra few minutes to Route 140 to shop.
Almost 200 unhappy citizens crowded into the lunchroom at Westminster Elementary School Monday night to hear about and express their opinions on a proposed shopping center at Route 31 and Fenby Farm Road.
Robert A. Fox of Howard County has proposed to build The Pavilions, a 128,000-square-foot shopping center with about 40 stores, on the site.
While the center would be convenient to their homes in the Wakefield Valley area, they said they don't want the increased traffic, noise and crime it would bring.
The crowd snickered when Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said the developer couldn't attend to explain his project and applauded almost every one of the 33 citizens who approached the microphone to put in two minutes of comment.
Residents threatened a boycott of the stores if the center is built and vowed to vote the City Council out of office if members approve the project.
It was a crowd to be reckoned with.
After hearing an hour and 15 minutes of comment from residents, Brown said, "I certainly have to say this is democracy in action."
Council President Kenneth J. Hornberger said the council will make a decision within 30 days.
Many residents first heard about the proposed shopping center after the city Planning and Zoning Commission approved the concept plan Aug. 9. Some began circulating petitions asking the council to forbid any commercial development on the 20-acre site, which is near three new residential developments.
The site is the only property zoned for commercial use between Westminster and New Windsor.
Fox's attorney, Charles M. Preston of Westminster, said the developer could not attend the public hearing Monday because his wife was in the hospital. Fox sent a letter for Preston to read.
Fox, president of The Benchmark Group Co., said in his letter that he worked with the city for nine months to revise the project. He urged the council to approve the project quickly so he could begin finding tenants.
"We realize good planning takes time. We feel we have given this project the time and planning it deserves. Time, however, grows short, and, as in many enterprises, can become an effort's undoing," he wrote.
"There is no question but that at some point the property in question will be developed. ... One can pose the classic questions, 'If not now, when? If not this, what?'" Definitely not "this," residents said. If the site can't be left vacant or developed for homes, they said, they would settle for a smaller center with a convenience store and a few other shops.
Michael Miller of Avondale Run said his home would overlook the center's roof.
"I moved to Carroll County for its quaint, country charm," which would be lost if the center is built, he said.
Mark Connolly of Furnace Hills said his home will be "only a fly ball away from the shopping center." If his son chased a fly ball, he might run into a brick wall, he said.
"I certainly have no need to go to that shopping center. If it's being put there for my convenience, I don't want it," Connolly said.
Terry Jacobson said he has three children, ages 3, 6 and 7, and is worried about their safety should traffic increase.
"Please do not let this traffic go through my neighborhood because I want my children to grow up safe and sound," he said.
Plans show access to the center from Fenby Farm Road and Crossbridge Drive, not Route 31.
Mark L. Jensen of Furnace Hills said, "We chose our (home) site because it was buffered from the commercial areas.
"Although our dollars don't number as large and powerful as yours (Fox's), I think our voices do," he said.