Wal-Mart loses again in rezoning Judge rules against appeal

February 25, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

A Howard County Circuit Court judge yesterday handed Wal-Mart Stores Inc. another loss in its 1 1/2 -year bid to locate two warehouse-sized stores at U.S routes 40 and 29 in Ellicott City.

Judge Dennis M. Sweeney rejected an appeal by landowner Nicholas Mangione and Wal-Mart, who sought to reverse the Zoning Board's decision blocking the rezoning of 54 acres for the stores. The plan would have changed the property from office/research to general business zoning.

Wal-Mart, the nation's leading retailer, sought the change for a 114,000-square-foot department store and a 130,000-square-foot Sam's Club wholesale outlet on the property.

"Thank goodness!" said Ruth Wright, whose town house lot backs up to the Mangione property. "I'm very grateful that they lost, because their parking lot lights were going to be in my windows, in my living room, and it would just congest traffic terribly."

Residents of Ms. Wright's Ellicott Meadows development and its builder, Joseph Wilder, were largely responsible for rallying opposition to the project. Homeowners and Mr. Wilder hired attorneys and expert witnesses to counter Wal-Mart's claims about potential effects of the stores on traffic, home values and the local economy.

Other residents of the U.S. 40 corridor turned out to predict the two stores would bring traffic problems to the poorly designed Ridge Road-U.S. 40 intersection.

The zoning battle, which began in August 1991, is one of the longest outside of comprehensive rezoning.

Although the Zoning Board hearing lasted 10 nights and yielded a 1,500-page transcript, Judge Sweeney rendered the decision quickly -- less than two weeks after a hearing on the appeal.

"We still think there are other sites for a Wal-Mart or a Sam's in Howard County, and we would at least hope that they would be looking at those appropriate sites," said Richard Luebke, one of the directors of the Ellicott Meadows Homeowners Association.

He said he will testify before the Zoning Board again on March 4, this time in opposition to an alternative Wal-Mart proposed as part of comprehensive rezoning of the eastern county. The Arkansas-based company has asked that 20 acres of the property, closest to U.S. 29, be rezoned to accommodate a Sam's Club.

Representatives for Wal-Mart could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon, but Mr. Mangione's son, Louis, said he was disappointed by the decision.

He said it would be possible to develop apartments or condominiums on half of the property, as proposed in the Department of Planning and Zoning's comprehensive rezoning petition.

"We haven't looked into the apartment or condo development seriously," he said. "Even if the school district is closed for four years," thereby putting off residential development, "that's going to be a lot sooner than a POR development."

In its appeal, Wal-Mart asserted that the board used incorrect criteria when evaluating the rezoning, which required proof of a change in the character of the neighborhood since 1985 or a mistake in current zoning.

But Judge Sweeney said in his nine-page decision that Wal-Mart had misinterpreted precedents from 1959 and 1960 in attempting to prove its case.

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