Jerry Miller and his neighbors on First Avenue in Carney realize that the nearby Griffith car dealership can legally proceed with plans to level a stand of trees and build a parking lot behind their homes.
The residents just don't think it's right.
The patch of woods is about four blocks from Harford Road and is surrounded on three sides by homes. The fourth side borders the Griffith dealership.
Griffith has submitted plans to Baltimore County to bulldoze many of the trees to build a new-car storage lot with bright security lights. Plans also call for the dealership to build over a small stream.
"We think it's inappropriate zoning," said Miller, as he showed a visitor the woods behind his home in the 3000 block of First Ave. The budding trees effectively screen the neighborhood from the dealership and from the nearby Beltway in northeast Baltimore County.
But the residents worry about the effect of knocking down many of the trees to build an asphalt storage lot for new cars.
"Our lot backs right up to the trees," said Roger Wahlhaupter, another First Avenue resident. "When the lot goes in, it will come right up to our backyard."
The case presents an interesting dilemma for Griffith and the residents, who are at odds over the project.
For the residents, the commercial zoning on the wooded lot came as a complete shock.
"We all were surprised," said Miller "I wouldn't have bought my house here, if I'd have known that."
Still, the residents never checked the zoning available to them in county records.
"We all assumed it was zoned residential," Miller said. "We never checked it."
"It's our property and it's zoned properly," said Larry V. Caulk, vice president for Griffith Management, which owns three other dealerships in addition to the one in the 9200 block of Harford Road. "We just never utilized it. Now we're going to utilize it."
Caulk, noting that the zoning has been in place for more than 20 years, said his company paid a premium price for the land because of the commercial zoning.
But Caulk said the dealership's intent isn't to antagonize the residents. The business, which desperately needs the additional storage space for new cars, has made special efforts to lessen the impact of the project, Caulk said.
Clyde Hinkle, an engineer working for Griffith, said a 15-foot buffer, including trees, would be kept to separate the lot from nearby residential properties. Also, a six-foot fence would be erected, screened with bushes and other shrubbery on one side, Hinkle said.
"We're doing more than required," Hinkle said. "We're only required to have a 10-foot buffer."
But the residents feel the proposed buffer and screening is inadequate.
They're planning to appear at the next County Review Group (CRG) meeting armed with any evidence they can dig up to show a negative impact of the proposed lot.
Richard Klein, a former fisheries expert for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources who now operates his own environmental consulting firm, is working with them for free.
Klein has Miller and other residents busy researching the deeds to the property and gauging the impact of the proposed development on two small streams that feed into White Marsh Run, waters that ultimately end up in Chesapeake Bay.
"There's no such thing as a project that can't be stopped," said Klein. He said the group would be checking out the possibility that an error was made in granting the commercial zoning back in 1966.
If that was the case, the residents would hope to have the land down-zoned to residential use during the quadrennial comprehensive rezoning process that begins this summer and concludes next year. But down-zoning property against a landowner's will is nearly impossible, Klein and the residents acknowledge.
More likely is that the residents and developer could forge a compromise, Klein said.
"Hopefully, we can find some kind of win-win solution that gives the car dealer what they want" without harming the community, he said.