Rezoning favored for Wal-Mart store Company may get OK for U.S. 29 site

September 09, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

The Howard County Zoning Board, which last year rejected a petition from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for two warehouse-sized stores in Ellicott City, agreed last night to rezone enough land for one of them.

Voting with unanimous agreement on one item in the county's eastern comprehensive rezoning package, the board decided to change 18 acres now designated for office and research use to general business use.

The Arkansas-based retailer,along with land owner Nicholas Mangione, had requested that 20 acres of Mr. Mangione's 54-acre tract between U.S. 29 and North Ridge Road be rezoned to accommodate a Sam's Club, a Wal-Mart-owned membership store.

"My guess is that we were going to do it anyway," said board member Darrel Drown, who proposed the rezoning for his own County Council district. "This way we get a buffer" to protect nearby townhouses in the Ellicott Meadows subdivision, he said.

Protests by Ellicott Meadows developer Joseph Wilder and homeowners were the main factor in the defeat of the more ambitious Wal-Mart proposal in July 1992.

The buffer cited by Mr. Drown is the zoning board's decision last night to designate for apartment use a similar-sized tract on the east side of North Ridge Road, between the retail property and the townhouses.

Last night's decisions will not be final until the comprehensive rezoning package is signed by a majority of the Zoning Board members -- who also comprise the County Council. Deliberations are expected to continue into next month.

"I think it's a fair compromise as long as the road network can handle it," said Vincent Guida, the zoning attorney who fought the proposal on behalf of Mr. Wilder.

Traffic at the overburdened North Ridge Road-U.S. 40 intersection was one of the main objections raised by both residents of the Route 40 corridor and by county planners.

Joseph W. Rutter, Howard's director of planning and zoning, told the board last night that the county has done new studies that indicate that the intersection can be upgraded to accommodate more traffic than was previously thought possible.

Two years ago, Mr. Mangione and Wal-Mart sought rezoning for the same site. That would have allowed construction of two stores on the entire 54-acre site behind Mr. Mangione's three-story office building at the intersection of U.S. 40 and U.S. 29. A 114,000-square-foot Wal-Mart and a 130,000-square-foot Sam's Club were proposed for the site.

The Zoning Board unanimously denied the petition after one of its longest hearings -- 10 nights, producing a transcript of about 1,500 pages. On Feb. 24, county Circuit Court Judge Dennis M. Sweeney rejected an appeal of that decision. Wal-Mart and Mr. Mangione are now attempting to overturn that decision in the Court of Special Appeals.

The Zoning Board is scheduled to resume deliberations on comprehensive rezoning at 9 a.m. Sept. 21, and continue at the same time Sept. 23, in the George Howard county office building in Ellicott City.

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