Rezoning bid irks residents Specter of huge store raises fears

October 20, 1992|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

If we had wanted to live next to a Wal-Mart, we would have bought a house near one. Why now should we endure one to improve some businessman's profit margin?

That, in a nutshell, was the sentiment among 150 residents who came out last night to fight a zoning change requested by developer Robert R. Moxley near the Wheatfields subdivision.

"If he loses money, he loses money," said resident John Scaldara "but not at my expense."

Mr. Moxley has requested a zoning change that would allow the construction of warehouse-sized discount and wholesale stores along Route 100 and Long Gate Parkway across from the subdivision.

Residents argued at a public meeting last night that such businesses would increase noise, traffic and the risk of crime while reducing property values and the neighborhood's ambience.

The proposed change is part of the county's comprehensive rezoning plan for eastern Howard. The plan is subject to the approval of the county planning and zoning boards.

Mr. Moxley has said that he only intends to build a shopping center with a grocery store and smaller retail stores on the site. But many of the residents worry that he would take advantage of the zoning change, which would allow more intense development, such as giant Wal-Mart store. Mr. Moxley did not appear to be in attendance at last night's meeting at Ellicott Mills Middle School.

Citizens from the subdivision asked to meet with planning officials yesterday evening to find out more about the proposed change. And in the forum, residents grilled a county official on why the administration supported the change and what alternatives there might be for the site.

Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of planning and zoning, said one of the purposes of rezoning was to maximize employment. The 52-acre parcel is zoned for a shopping center, local business, townhouse and detached house use.

Ms. McLaughlin said that the glut of office space in the county and the parcel's location near Route 100 and U.S. 29 made it less desirable for corporate or residential use.

One resident suggested it be used for a middle school. Ms. McLaughlin said another possibility was to leave it as is.

The Planning Board will hold hearings on the comprehensive zoning plan on Nov. 17, 19 and 24. The plan will then go to the Zoning Board, which is expected to modify and possibly approve it by the end of March 1993.

Residents expressed distrust for the local government during last night's meeting. They complained that officials should have let them know sooner about the proposed change so they could think of alternatives.

Ms. McLaughlin said she wished the government could take its time and meet with every citizens' group throughout the planning process, but said it would take at least a year to do so.

"Who's setting the time schedule?" asked Candi Anderson, who lives near the site.

"Moxley's setting the time schedule," answered subdivision resident, Bob Kopytko.

"The people here feel that a lot of deals are being done behind closed doors," said resident Steve Wolniak just before the hearing began.

"There have been no deals," said county Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, who also serves on the Zoning Board. "I've heard all the rumors too. That's all they are."

The Wheatfields residents are particularly jittery about rezoning because Wal-Mart Stores Inc., recently tried to rezone a 54-acre parcel nearby at U.S. 40 and 29. The Zoning Board rejected the request, which Wal-Mart has appealed to Howard Circuit Court.

Wal-Mart officials have repeatedly said they are not interested in any other sites in Howard County. A representative of Mr. Moxley has said that Wal-Mart has not contacted him about the land near Wheatfields.

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