County approves rezoning for Waverly Woods II 4-1 vote ends 16 days of hearings

opponents mull appeal

January 29, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Waverly Woods II, the county's largest development since Columbia, won tentative approval yesterday from the county Zoning Board, but lawmakers cut 41 percent of its proposed office space.

Faced with dogged neighborhood opposition, the rezoning case for the 682-acre project in Marriottsville and Woodstock had dragged through 16 days of hearings from last March to December. It was the longest-running case since 1976, when the Rouse Co. won its bid to annex hundreds of acres into Columbia.

"It's been a long process, and I think we got a better site plan as a result," said Waverly Woods II developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. after the County Council, sitting as the Zoning Board, gave the go-ahead.

But Zoning Board Chairman C. Vernon Gray refused to breathe a sigh of relief over the 4-1 vote. "I've been on this Zoning Board long enough to know that sometimes people change their minds," before the decision is written by the county Office of Law and finalized with the signatures of council members.

Councilman Paul R. Farragut, who represents West Columbia, was the lone dissenter in the vote.

Reuwer said construction won't start for about two years on the commercial, residential and golfing village. The first components will be an 18-hole public golf course and condominiums along the southeastern edge of the property.

Martin A. Reid, a resident of the neighboring Wetherburn subdivision who moved to the largely rural area in part because it was zoned for 3-acre homesites, said he was disappointed at the ruling.

"I just think the change is too dense and it will result in a dramatic change in the character of the neighborhood," said Mr. Reid, a real estate investment manager who testified as expert witnesses against the rezoning.

"I'm surprised, especially after the testimony of Jan Miller, that they voted for change or mistake, because I thought he had a very strong argument against it," he said.

Mr. Miller, a federal prosecutor who lives in the area, cited a plethora of zoning appeals during public hearings in an attempt to prove that the legal basis for the change could be overturned by a higher court.

It was uncertain yesterday, however, whether the opposition will mount a legal challenge that could cost $10,000 for hearing transcripts alone.

Kenneth Zimmerman of Woodstock, an active member of Citizens Allied for Rational Expansion, said his group will have determine on what legal grounds the Zoning Board based its ruling before deciding whether to take the case to Circuit Court.

After failing to reach a decision during a Jan. 19 work session, the board members took less than four minutes to rule that a zoning mistake or a change in the neighborhood's character has occurred since comprehensive rezoning in 1985 -- the two legal requirements for allowing a zoning change.

Mr. Gray declined to explain the vote after the meeting, except to say that past rezoning decisions have been handled in a similar manner.

Asked whether any council members had spoken to each other about the rezoning since the first work session -- which board rules prohibit -- Mr. Gray said he didn't know where any board member stood when yesterday's session began.

Mr. Gray said he had "probably" spoken to all four fellow board members, but only about the decision-making process. "I was talking about how we were going to get through this particular meeting. . . . I didn't ask them how they were going to vote," he said.

Except for reducing the amount of office, warehouse and business space in the development from 1.7 million to 1 million square feet, the board made few changes to the project's site plan after Deputy County Solicitor Paul Johnson warned that substantial changes would require additional public hearings.

Citing a recent slowdown in commercial development in the county, Councilman Charles C. Feaga said neighbors "scared to death" of the business zoning "might not see anything go up there for their lifetime. It might be safer than something else right now, and we may need it 30, 40 years from now," Mr. Feaga said.

The board also voted to require that the project's owners, John Gudelsky, Dr. Bruce Taylor and Kennard Warfield Jr., provide the county with 20 acres for a school site and the opportunity to purchase additional acreage within the project.

The owners have already offered to add 5 acres to an existing 10-acre school board parcel at Route 99 and Rogers Avenue.

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