For the second time in three years, West Friendship residents are fighting what they fear would be a pit stop for Interstate 70 motorists.
They fear that three gas pumps planned by High's Dairy Stores Inc. would pollute an adjacent creek, strain the ability of nearby land to handle additional septic waste and create traffic problems.
Rick Grimes, who lives behind the West Friendship Shopping Center property where the High's convenience store opened in June, said his concern is that the pumps would generate more bathroom stops than gas stops.
Mr. Grimes and his neighbors fought off a much bigger corporate opponent in 1991. Exxon sought county approval for a self-service gas station and convenience store on the same site but lost its battle for a special zoning exception.
High's representatives, clearing their first hurdle by getting the county Planning Board's approval, were careful to point out to the board that theirs would be a much smaller operation and that Baltimore-based High's is no Exxon.
Mr. Grimes told board members Oct. 12 that his main complaint is that the shopping center's septic system is often too full or stopped up, making the ground moist and setting off an overflow alarm on weekends and holidays.
Representatives of High's say there will be no problem because the store has its own septic system.
Residents also testified that traffic in and out of the small shopping center is already a problem, and that enticing cars and trucks off the interstate would create a dangerous situation.
Teresa Stonesifer, a school bus driver who lives on Route 144, called the stretch of road from Route 32 to the shopping center's access road the "worst part of my runs."
Lee Cunningham, a traffic expert hired by High's, testified that under the state's highway rating system, which resembles a report card, all intersections near the center received a grade of A.
David Carney, the attorney arguing for a special exception to the property's business zoning, said High's would promise not to seek a sign on I-70 directing motorists to gas at the store.
Board members said they had not heard enough about potential septic tank problems for the proposed gas pumps and about whether there is a "reasonable public need" for additional gasoline sales in the area, one of the conditions of such a special zoning exception.
They also expect to get more information from county planners or the State Highway Administration about the need for additional lanes on Route 144. A letter from the SHA said High's should add a left-turn lane to the road to accommodate traffic returning to I-70 from the gas pumps.
The board will hear additional testimony on those issues today at 9:30 a.m. in the Ellicott Room of the George Howard county office building. Board members will then vote on a recommendation to the Board of Appeals, which makes the final decision on special exceptions.
The appeals board will meet Nov. 10 to hold its own hearing on the proposed gas pumps.