A proposal by Baltimore County planners for the creation of a "community business zone" designed to enhance neighborhoods drew opposition at a public hearing Thursday night from the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and McDonald's fast-food restaurants.
The new zoning classification would favor small neighborhood businesses and restaurants while banning service stations, nightclubs, fast-food restaurants and all large retail stores except supermarkets and drugstores.
"While such uses are appropriate when located apart from residential neighborhoods, they are inappropriate when placed in close proximity to someone's home," planners from the Baltimore County Office of Planning and Zoning wrote in the proposal offered for public comment Thursday.
Current zoning categories do not offer the desired protection for communities, they said. "Over the years, the county's liberal standards and regulations for business zones have produced commercial development which, in many instances, is characterized by its pervasive ugliness," they wrote.
The new zoning would welcome services such as beauticians and dry cleaners, travel agencies, banks, child care, health clubs, video stores, dance studios and other businesses not exceeding 5,000 square feet. Supermarkets and drugstores could be built larger but would have separate restrictions.
Shopping areas that are accessible and comfortable for pedestrians are desirable because demographic projections say 17 percent of the county's population will be elderly by 2010, the planners said.
But Carolyn Blanchard Cook, assistant director of government relations for the Realtors trade association, told members of the Baltimore County Planning Board that her group opposes the proposed classification because existing business zones can be fine-tuned to achieve the same goals.
"Furthermore," she warned, "the guidelines for the proposed zone in many respects may do no more than set the stage for vacant community shopping centers that could become community nuisances."
Timothy R. Hearn, vice president of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn's commercial and industrial division, also addressed the Planning Board on behalf of the Realtors, saying, "These flaws can create a center which will not be patronized and can become a blight on the very neighborhood they were supposed to enhance."
Stanley Fine, an attorney for McDonald's, said the chain "wants to grow and prosper with the county -- and wants to be permitted in the community business zone."
The Planning Board will vote later on the proposal, which, if approved, would move to the Baltimore County Council for further hearings and action.