Owen Brown board wary of plan for retail center next to Exxon

December 07, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Still smarting from an unsuccessful fight to stop the Rouse Co.'s plans for a gas station, the Owen Brown Village Board is wary of the company's proposed adjacent retail center, said Vice Chairwoman Wanda Hurt.

"We're viewing this with trepidation because of the past history with the gas station," Ms. Hurt said.

Representatives from the Rouse Co. and GBHR Corp. of Finksburg, a developer which has a contract to purchase the 2.3-acre Owen Brown South site, will present plans for the proposed retail project to the board at 7:30 tonight at the Owen Brown Community Center.

Bonnie Griffith, a nearby resident who opposed the gas station, said she's concerned that commercial development will adversely affect the residential community and property values, and said she plans to push for safeguards.

The proposed 16,618-square-foot retail center would be built off Minstrel Way, north of Snowden River Parkway, east of Broken Land Parkway and just south of a residential neighborhood along Carved Stone.

An Exxon station with a convenience mart and car wash currently is being constructed adjacent to the retail center site. The county Planning Board granted Howard Research and Development Corp., a Rouse Co. subsidiary, a zoning exception in September 1992 to permit a gas station.

Ms. Griffith and Village Board member Andy Stack opposed the company's request at public hearings, expressing concern about noise, fumes, traffic, lighting, crime and hours of operation. Mr. Stack also argued that a gas station hadn't been planned for Minstrel Way and was contrary to Columbia's comprehensive plans.

The Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, responded that its study on siting for gas stations in Columbia wasn't intended as an ironclad plan.

The Planning Board denied the village board's request to reconsider its decision allowing the gas station.

Ms. Hurt said the village board wasn't informed of Rouse Co. plans for a gas station until "well along in the process. Too seldom do residents know in time of plans to change zoning," she said. "We need to let people know a lot farther ahead so they can have input into what effects their lives."

Gerald E. Brock, Rouse Co. vice president and senior development director, said the company always presents development plans to Columbia village boards "as soon as something is fairly well confirmed."

GBHR Corp. will be responsible for site plans, such as landscaping, parking and leasing, Mr. Brock said, adding that Howard Research and Development Corp. has done some landscaping near the gas station property.

Ms. Griffith said she knew the site was designated for commercial use, but expected more office buildings, which would have less impact on nearby residences.

She said she wants a higher berm constructed with more trees between residences and the commercial area -- including recently opened Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell fast-food restaurants -- to separate the neighborhood and obscure the lights.

Ms. Griffith said she felt frustrated during her effort last year in opposing the gas station.

"My whole feeling was that as Joe Resident, it doesn't matter," she said. "The big companies like the Rouse Co., they're going to do what they please."

Ms. Griffith questions whether more retail development is appropriate along Snowden River Parkway, which she says is out of character aesthetically with Columbia.

"Snowden River Parkway is looking a whole lot like Route 40," said Ms. Griffith. "I'm not paying Columbia taxes to live near a Route 40.

"I come from Miami. In Miami, I expect this. I came here for the vision James Rouse had [for a planned city]."

The Rouse Co. recently developed the Snowden Square retail center, featuring warehouse-like outlets. Other developers have built new strip-shopping centers just north of Carved Stone on the parkway. Those non-Rouse Co. projects are "shoe-horned in," Mr. Brock said.

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