Zoning official predicts doom of rural village, riles Maryland Line

January 23, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

Is the shadow of urban sprawl spreading over the quaint, rural village of Maryland Line? Will villagers wake up one morning and find their hamlet one more link in a megalopolis stretching from Washington to New York?

Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt says that's a possibility and that residents should no longer shut their eyes to the fact.

Mr. Schmidt's comments, in a written opinion approving a small retail center in Maryland Line, have angered many residents, who found his words insulting.

But Mr. Schmidt didn't limit his comments to those who oppose change.

He also took the county government to task for violating the spirit and intent of the county's development review process.

The zoning commissioner wrote that the developer and county bureaucrats resolved some issues in private discussions just before the hearing on the plan -- giving residents little time to prepare.

"The development regulations were designed to foster open communication between the county, the developer and the community," Mr. Schmidt said.

He ultimately approved the plan submitted by Randolph Shelley, principal owner of Maryland Line Properties Inc., for a 6,300-square-foot retail center that could house three to six stores or professional offices.

The center would occupy a 1-acre lot off York Road near the southern end of the village.

The land has been zoned for rural commercial use for years, and the main issue was whether Mr. Shelley's plan was compatible with the rural setting.

Protesters argued that the center would be much larger than the small businesses that populate the village and out of character with its atmosphere.

But Mr. Schmidt noted that the center would be substantially smaller than the 8,800-square-foot maximum allowed by the zoning. He said the developer had made many design changes to help it blend in better.

"There is no doubt that Maryland Line has retained many of the characteristics of a small county village of yesterday," Mr. Schmidt wrote. "Nevertheless, it has and will change.

"Just as clear as the fact that Maryland Line is not New York City, it is certain it is not the Australian Outback either. It must be recognized that the days of small rural isolated communities located close to major cities such as Baltimore are clearly numbered."

The wording outraged Dr. Richard McQuaid, president of the Maryland Line Area Association.

"How dare he tell us that we should just accept the idea our village is going to become part of the urban landscape." Dr. McQuaid said. "We were highly insulted by the tone of his opinion," he said.

"I certainly never intended to insult anyone," Mr. Schmidt replied. "I was merely trying to make the point that since the property was zoned commercial for many years, obviously the County Council felt a commercial use was appropriate there. It was then a matter of whether this particular development plan was compatible."

Mr. Schmidt said he made those points in his opinion but that "sometimes when people are disappointed with the outcome, they take one or two paragraphs out of context."

All the protesters wanted, Dr. McQuaid said, was a smaller retail center that would conform more with other local businesses. He said the group had not decided whether to appeal.

On the secrecy issue, Mr. Schmidt chided the county for reaching agreements on specific issues with the developer privately, before the official hearing, in violation of rules designed to keep the process open.

"All parties, including community representatives, are entitled to know what they will be facing when they step foot into the hearing," Mr. Schmidt wrote.

He said that though he did not believe there was any devious intent this time, similar action in a future case might prompt him to deny a plan and force the developer to start the review process from scratch.

Arnold E. Jablon, director of the Office of Zoning Enforcement and Development Management, which oversees the regulations, said he agreed with the Mr. Schmidt.

"We don't want what happened in the Shelley case to ever happen again," he said.

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