Exiting traffic turns into a court battle It's Manchester vs. Sheetz store NORTH--Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

June 09, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

When is a right-turn lane wrong?

In Manchester, it depends on whom you ask.

The town of Manchester and the operators of the Sheetz convenience store at the intersection of Routes 30 and 27 are battling in Carroll County Circuit Court over the right-turn-only exit from the store onto northbound Route 30.

David Ruby, who owns the Manchester Supply Co. hardware store, which is north of and separated from the Sheetz store by one lot with a house on it, said Tuesday that the northbound exit from the Sheetz store is unsafe.

"If you were here all day, every week, you'd see it," he said.

Mr. Ruby said he sees near-misses several times a week as cars coming out of the Sheetz right-turn-only exit try to zip into a gap in northbound Route 30 traffic -- just as other drivers are trying to pull out of the hardware store parking lot.

When the Manchester planning and zoning commission approved the original Sheetz plan in October 1990, the plan included only one access to Route 30.

That access was at the intersection of Route 30 and Route 27. It had three lanes: one incoming lane, one outgoing lane for drivers turning right onto northbound Route 30 and one outgoing lane for those going straight onto Route 27 or turning left onto southbound Route 30.

But when the Sheetz store was built, its lot became congested, State Highway Administration spokeswoman Valerie Burnett said Monday. Traffic backed up on the Sheetz lot, she said, and cars waiting to turn into Sheetz caused backups on Route 30.

In February 1991, Sheetz representatives met with representatives of the Highway Administration to discuss the problem. Manchester was also invited to send a representative to the meeting, but did not.

The Highway Administration gave temporary permission for another exit on the north side of the Sheetz lot, Ms. Burnett said. Still in use, that is a right-turn-only exit allowing cars to enter

northbound Route 30. The original access was reduced to two lanes, one for cars entering the lot and one for cars exiting. The Highway Administration's permission was temporary, until a review could be done, she said.

"The traffic engineers have looked at it, and it seems to be working," she said.

However, the Sheetz owners did not clear the change with the Manchester Planning and Zoning Commission.

On April 18, 1991, Manchester Zoning Administrator Miriam L. DePalmer wrote to Joseph Sheetz and Charles Sheetz of Steico Inc., the store's developers, telling them they had 30 days to close off the new exit.

"Each day this exit is allowed to be used, the opportunity for a serious accident to occur exists," she wrote.

The developers then presented the Manchester Planning and Zoning Commission with an amended site plan that included the new access. The commission voted in December 1991 to ask the Sheetz owners to adhere to the original plan.

"We felt that the risk was too high" that a vehicle leaving Sheetz could collide with a vehicle leaving the hardware store, said Benjamin Perricone, chairman of the town Planning and Zoning Commission.

But the State Highway Administration feels safety is not a problem, Ms. Burnett said. State Highway Administration engineers checked whether the Sheetz exit is too close to the hardware store's access, she said, but found, "There is enough sight distance so that it is not a traffic problem."

The Sheetz developers appealed the town planning commission's decision to the Manchester Board of Zoning Appeals. On April 30, 1992, the board denied that appeal.

"The Board of Zoning Appeals feels that the original site plan with the three-lane entrance MUST be given the opportunity to function," read the decision, signed by Chairman Eric Zile.

Also, the decision noted, the changes to the plan "were not submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval to amend the site plan until after the changes were physically complete."

In May 1992, the Sheetz owners appealed the board's decision to the Carroll County Circuit Court.

Clark R. Shaffer, the attorney representing Steico Inc., wrote in his statement of the case that the board decision should be reversed because the store's amended site plan meets the town code. He cited a study by traffic specialist Wes Guckert saying the Sheetz access does not worsen traffic conditions on Route 30.

Mr. Shaffer said the Board of Zoning Appeals improperly based its decision on the Sheetz owners' alleged transgressions of the planning process. But Mr. Perricone said, "The decision of the Planning and Zoning Commission was based strictly on the safety issue." He said the question of whether the commission should approve changes after they had been completed "had absolutely no impact on any decision-making process for the town."

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