Rezoning land on Route 3 in Gambrills to allow a cable television company to expand could open the neighborhood for garages and strip shopping centers, opponents of the proposal warned yesterday.
Unconvinced by the developer's claims that commercial zoning is necessary to allow Jones Intercable to erect a larger building, the opponents said they are worried about future use of the property.
"We don't know what will be developed in the future if a broad sweep of commercial zoning is allowed in," said Jordan L. Harding, town manager for Crofton, who argued that buildup along Route 3 eventually will hurt everyone.
Jones Intercable has operated for 12 years from a building on three acres of residential land east of Route 3, north of St. Stephen's Church Road. The company wants to buy 6.8 adjacent acres owned by Baldwin Enterprises and rezone all 9.8 acres for commercial use.
The cable company, as a public utility, is allowed in residential zones with a special exception.
But company officials and developers argued yesterday to an administrative hearing officer that the restrictions in residential zoning are too cumbersome for the cable company to expand and still serve its 95,000 customers.
Anthony Christhilf, a lawyer representing Baldwin, also said that the land where the cable company's building stands would be useless unless it is rezoned to commercial.
Mr. Christhilf said the county council erred three years ago when it zoned the land for residential use because it didn't take into account the effect on a growing business that occupied the site.
Lee J. Rigby, the office manager at Jones Intercable, said it would be too much of a hardship, financially and for customers, for his company to move to another location because of the extensive rewiring required.
He said moving too far away could mean a lengthy disruption of service for customers. And the existing building, he said, "is functionally obsolete."
But Richard Josephson, a county planner, said the cable company can expand simply by buying the land and obtaining a special exception. But he conceded that the building and parking area would have to be smaller without the zoning change.
"This is a legal alternative," said Gail A. Nettleton, of the St. Stephen's Church Road community association, who argued that the cable company could not complain that the residential zoning creates a hardship.
She worried, however, that Baldwin could turn the land to other uses if the change were granted.
"There is nothing to say that the present landowner, once commercial zoning is in place, won't build a garage or a strip mall," she said.
But Baldwin officials said after the hearing that they have no such plans. "We are not going to build a strip shopping mall," said Brian O'Meara, a Baldwin consultant. "This is for Jones Intercable."