Rezoning for store gets mixed reviews Ruling paves way for a Sam's Club

September 10, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

The decision to rezone enough land for a warehouse-sized store in Ellicott City was greeted with relief by county officials and skepticism by nearby residents yesterday.

"I think they've worked out a very good compromise," said Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

"I'm worried about the [U.S.] 40 corridor," he said. "I'm concerned that if we don't have something to draw people to that corner of the county, people are going to go elsewhere to shop. They're going to go to BJ's; they're going to go to Price Club."

But to Charles Sciabarra, who lives in the Ellicott Meadows subdivision near the site, the Zoning Board's decision came as a shock after its unanimous refusal in July 1992 to grant zoning for a Wal-Mart and a members-only Sam's Club on 54 acres. Wednesday's decision would provide 18 acres for a Sam's Club.

Mr. Sciabarra, who sat through nearly all of the 10-day public hearing that led up to that decision, said he was concerned that Wal-Mart would have "carte blanche to do what they want."

Under Wal-Mart's original "site-plan rezoning" request, the retailer would have had to adhere to a number of conditions, including providing buffers to protect neighboring property from the noise and lights from the stores, and improving the neighboring U.S. 40 intersection.

But under the comprehensive rezoning the board is now considering, Wal-Mart would be governed only by the regulations for the general business category, Mr. Sciabarra said.

"You have no guarantees, you have no recourse once it's B-2," he said.

Mr. Ecker said Wal-Mart, like any other developer in the county, would have to follow the county's adequate public facilities ordinances, which require a developer to help pay for improvements to any congested intersection near the site.

Speaking for the Ellicott Meadows Homeowners Association, Jean C. Luebke said residents were concerned about traffic but were pleased that only one of the stores was allowed on the site.

The Wednesday decision, which will become final once the comprehensive rezoning package is signed by board members, uses apartment zoning as a buffer between the store site and Ellicott Meadows.

"It appears that where the store is located, it won't affect our community at all" except for additional traffic at the U.S. 40 intersection, Ms. Luebke said.

Before making their decision, board members asked Joseph W. Rutter, planning and zoning director, how the store would affect traffic.

He replied that he had seen new studies indicating that the intersection could be improved enough to handle the extra traffic.

He explained later that those studies, provided by representatives of Wal-Mart and land owner Nicholas Mangione, were based on a recently devised way of improving the intersection.

Richard B. Talkin, a Columbia zoning attorney who represents Wal-Mart and Mr. Mangione, said the idea for reconfiguring the intersection came from the State Highway Administration.

John Contestable, chief of the SHA's Engineering Access Permits Division, said state engineers suggested a new configuration had in April but had not studied how much it would improve the intersection.

The idea is to use double left-turn lanes in both directions on U.S. 40, curving into the median to allow both sides to turn left simultaneously.

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