Zoning request sparks look at land use on Ritchie Highway Some fear change for liquor store could lead to more CENTRAL COUNTY -- Arnold * Broadneck * Severna Park * Crownsville * Millersville

August 12, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

An article about Severna Park zoning changes in yesterday's Anne Arundel edition should have said the car wash on Ritchie Highway was granted a special exception by the Board of Appeals and is a nonconforming use.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

Nobody pretends Ritchie Highway is a scenic paradise.

But exactly how to halt the creeping commercialization of the road provoked sharp debate at the Greater Severna Park Council (GSPC) meeting Tuesday.

Voices were raised over a request by an Arnold liquor store to have its zoning changed, a move that would permit a variety of commercial uses. But the real squabble is over whether Severna Park has already lost the highway to small businesses and commercial ventures that bring noise, unsightly buildings and traffic.

GSPC President Pat Troy said the council will address the whole question of Ritchie Highway and zoning as part of its plan to prevent, rather than react to, growth.

"We're looking at the problems along Ritchie Highway. Is it possible to maintain the status quo? I have my doubts," she said Tuesday.

Thirty years ago, the "problems" didn't exist. Severna Park was still a small waterfront summer-home community, with little development along its tree-lined roads. When Route 2 opened from Glen Burnie to Annapolis in the late 1930s, the road was virgin territory, with hardly any businesses.

Now, in just one short stretch south of Severna Park, GSPC member Dick Diller said, he's counted 200 businesses.

"It came as a shock," Mr. Diller told the GSPC Tuesday. "I'm wondering how all of this came about. But any major artery is going to attract business, and a lot of it has been there before we had general development plans and comprehensive rezoning."

Mr. Diller, who represents the Severn Heights community in the GSPC, said he believes the organization may be in error in opposing a recent rezoning request. Fishpaw's, a liquor store on Ritchie Highway, has asked the county to rezone its property from a residential zoning (with a nonconforming use) to a general commercial district.

Owner Kim Lawson said she wants to renovate the store and fix up the parking lot. But GSPC zoning chairman Jim Gutman said he fears other uses.

"Obviously, they want a change of zoning for a completely different use," Mr. Gutman said. "A strip center is my guess. That certainly does not meet the purposes of this council."

But Mr. Diller said: "Fishpaw's is not going to go away. I'm wondering whether we're expending useless energy in opposing them. I don't like this, us saying we're going to oppose this zoning until we know more about it."

Historically, the GSPC has been adamant in fighting growth and commercial strip-zoning, and in promoting campaigns to visually clean up Route 2's business area. Two years ago, the council managed to get 15 merchants in the Severna Park area to take down signs that violated county laws. More recently, the council has opposed an attempt by the owner of an auto repair business to keep operating his shop out of his Ritchie Highway home.

If the owners of Fishpaw's are looking only to spruce up an aging building, which might improve the view from Ritchie Highway, maybe the GSPC shouldn't oppose them, said Mr. Diller, a community resident for 30 years.

Because many existing businesses are not going to be displaced, Mr. Diller added, "We need to take a hard look at what exists and what we can do to improve it."

In some instances, the GSPC has taken no position on rezoning requests, such as rezoning this year that allowed a carwash to be built along the highway, GSPC member Rick Zablocki noted during Tuesday's discussion.

In that instance, the property owners came to the council with drawings of their projected business, seeking approval. The car wash's design -- as attractive as possible -- met with the GSPC's approval, and the County Council granted the rezoning.

As the county, the GSPC and the Severna Park Chamber of Commerce tackle the question of what to do about commercial development, they have many factors to balance, Ms. Troy said.

Because residential development in Severna Park is nearly complete, the community must be careful not to allow duplicate businesses that won't have a large enough population base to support them, she said. Another concern is to make sure that property owners along Ritchie Highway don't suffer because of zoning changes.

"We don't want to see property values plummet because only a certain type of zoning use is acceptable," Ms. Troy said. "There's obviously a lot of work ahead of us."

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