Flea market at former Elkridge Drive-In site meets opposition

June 22, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Saying flea markets create traffic, trash and noise, some Elkridge residents told the Board of Appeals hearing last night they opposed a flea market on the site of the former Elkridge Drive-In.

"I believe [a flea market] creates a very negative image," said Ray Miller, president of the Elkridge Community Association, which represents about 425 residents. "You feel it's an area in decline."

More than 30 people attended last night's hearing on a request by Dr. Charu and Barry Mehta of Columbia for a special zoning exception to operate a weekend flea market on the 17-acre site off U.S. 1 near Bonnie View Lane. Some 20 residents opposed the Mehtas.

The flea market is one of the uses the Mehtas proposed for the site. They also want to build a retirement community -- an assisted-living facility and adult day care center -- and a fast-food restaurant on the site.

The Mehtas want to operate a flea market for the next four years to raise money to help finance start-up costs for the retirement community. They said they pay $12,000 to $15,000 in annual property taxes on the site.

"This is just a temporary use," said Dr. Mehta of the flea market.

To operate a flea market on the site, however, requires a special exception. If the Board of Appeals approves the proposal, the Mehtas would hire professional managers to operate the flea market on five acres during weekends from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Parking would be provided for 400 cars. The flea market would run from April 1 to Nov. 15.

But many residents said they fear the flea market will reduce the value of nearby homes, generate dust and trash and also bring unwanted people to the neighborhood.

"These flea markets bring a bad element," said Ron Tilkens, TC Montgomery Woods resident who lives near the Mehtas' property.

Residents also told the Board of Appeals that Elkridge doesn't need another flea market. One already operates during the weekends on the parking lot of Luskin's furniture store on U.S. 1.

But supporters of the flea market say the operation is the best use of the property, which regularly falls into disrepair after the annual Elkridge Days Carnival each spring.

"This will allow them to keep the site maintained and the grass cut," said Bob Boardman, president of the Elkridge Business and Professional Association. "I can't think of a better temporary use for that site."

In addition to using the flea market to pay for the site's property taxes and the initial costs of the retirement community, the Mehtas want to use the flea market to raise money to help pay the fees of senior citizens who can't afford to attend a day care center for the elderly they run in Catonsville.

The couple also plans to use proceeds from the proposed flea market to donate money to local charities and Grace Episcopal Church in Elkridge, to which they belong.

Despite the Mehtas' offer to contribute money to local charities, residents remained skeptical, comparing their offer to a bribe to encourage the community to accept the flea market.

"To me, it about sounds like bribery," Mr. Miller said. "There's nothing binding them to that promise."

Mr. Mehta said he's unsure how to deal with residents who seem unwilling to cooperate with his and his wife's plans for the property.

"If someone says 'we're willing to work with you,' I'd be very happy to work with them or anyone," Mr. Mehta said. But when people refuse to negotiate, "we don't know how to deal with that."

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