Opponents of the Benson Business Center in Columbia, resuming their battle against the Rouse Co. in Howard County Circuit Court this week, may have an ally in adequate public facilities legislation.
Growth-control measures to be voted on by the County Council at its Oct.
29 meeting could put off the construction of three restaurants, including a 24-hour restaurant that especially worries nearby residents because of the nighttime activity and traffic it could bring. Because those site plans were not submitted to the county until last month, they could end up subject to costly adequate facilities requirements.
Site development plans for the center's 120-room hotel, gas station and Italian restaurant have been reviewed by county planners and have a good chance of getting final approval before the growth-control law could go into effect on Dec. 29, said Joseph Rutter, deputy director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning.
"Certainly for those last three restaurants it would be very close if everything went fine," Rutter said, explaining that the earliest they could get on the county Planning Board's agenda would be next month, with approval by county agencies taking several more weeks.
If the county returns the plans to the developers for revision, the process could continue into next year and be subject to the law's road-improvement requirements, Rutter said.
Heavy traffic that would be generated by the project was one of the main arguments coalition members used against the center in their pleas to the Planning Board last November and December. They testified that crime and noise would disturb their neighborhoods if the center were built.
The intersection next to the center -- Route 108 and Lark Brown Road -- now has heavier traffic than the growth-control law would allow. Even after the Rouse Co. improves the intersection, traffic would still be too heavy to allow new development without further improvements, Rutter said.
But Al Scavo, Rouse Co. vice president, said he doubted the adequate facilities legislation would affect Benson Business Center's development.
He said he expects plan approval for all the center's businesses "certainly prior to the first of the year . . . if everything proceeds in the usual fashion."
County officials have maintained that the approval process will not be rushed for developers trying to avoid the restrictions.
"You can rest assured that Rouse is probably letting no grass grow under their feet," said George Rovnack, president of the Route 108 Corridor Coalition. Plans were approved by the Planning Board Dec. 4 and upheld July 23 by the appeals board.
Nothing has been growing next to Rovnack's home since bulldozers began clearing the land there July 24.
"Before they took down all those trees, at least we had a buffer from the traffic on (Route) 175. If you open your windows at night, it's like having a highway in your backyard," Rovnack said.
Coalition members, most of whom live in the Mayfield, Deep Run, Kendall Ridge, Annetta Gardens, Heatherwood Estates and Lark Brown Road communities, say they were not given a fair hearing by either the planning or appeals boards.
On Friday, their Baltimore attorney, Leonard Schwartz, will argue in county Circuit Court for the Coalition's right to appeal the decision, which is being challenged by a Rouse Co. motion to dismiss the case.