Timonium-area residents fight proposed megastore

April 09, 1995|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

The battle lines have been drawn in Baltimore County for a fight familiar to suburban areas across the nation: Residents vs. megastore.

At issue is a proposal for Timonium's first megastore, a Price Club membership warehouse that area residents fear would increase traffic woes, lower property values and bring outsiders into their neighborhoods.

Despite such objections, the Baltimore County Office of Planning and Zoning recommended that the warehouse store would be the best use of a prime piece of real estate on Aylesbury Road near Timonium Road.

Both sides voiced their opinions and recommendations Thursday an emotionally charged planning board meeting that attracted more than 100 homeowners opposed to the project. The board is to vote on the proposal April 27.

"It is an abandoned site at this point," said Andrea van Arsdale, chief of strategic planning for the Office of Planning and Zoning. "We found the Price Club design to be one of the most attractive warehouse uses in the region."

zTC The developer, Price/Costco Inc., also has agreed to pay for more than $300,000 in traffic improvements to aid vehicular flow in the area.

But residents aren't convinced that will alleviate congestion. "It will cause blight. "You're going to overcrowd, overuse the land," said Louis W. Miller, a 39-year resident of East Timonium Road.

"The traffic is such a great concern for me," said Rita Fox, who lives in nearby Valleywood. "Chi-Chi's is so crowded. Sometimes you'd think they're giving out free food."

The 13.4-acre site for the proposed Price Club is behind a Chi-Chi's restaurant and across the street from the Timonium Crossing shopping center.

It now contains a mix of vacant buildings formerly used by SACO Supply Co., which has been sold and relocated in Baltimore.

With site plans and photo montages, Robert A. Hoffman, an attorney representing Price/Costco, presented the concept plan for the $15 million project to the board.

It calls for a 136,500-square-foot wholesale membership warehouse with 700 parking spaces. The club is expected to employ about 150 people in 85 full-time and 65 part-time jobs.

The building would not look like the typical "big box" warehouse, Mr. Hoffman said, referring to plans describing cornices, windows, awnings and architectural accents that would create a more varied appearance for the masonry structure.

Also, the plan calls for landscaped parking areas, tree buffers and pedestrian walkways.

To alleviate traffic concerns, Price/Costco would be required to provide double left turns at Timonium and York roads, study the traffic needs at York and Aylesbury roads and make road improvements at the nearby intersection of Greenspring Drive and Timonium Road.

The company is offering these improvements to qualify for a zoning waiver, called planned unit development -- commercial (PUD-C). The waiver granted under a county law passed last year allows some commercial projects to bypass the often cumbersome rezoning process.

The site for the proposed Price Club currently is zoned for manufacturing.

The new law has been used for only two other projects -- The Avenue, a retail complex in White Marsh, and the redevelopment of a building at 1830 York Road in Timonium.

Criteria for PUD-C specify a quality design; considerations to lessen the impact on the community, such as traffic improvements; and providing a public benefit, such as employment opportunities and increased real estate taxes.

"PUD-C gives the county and planning board a way to bargain for improvements," said David S. Thaler of the county Chamber of Commerce, urging the planning board to endorse the waiver.

But board member William J. Bauman voiced concern that the project did not meet the intent of PUD-C. He said he understood that the law was meant for a mixed-use development of a site. "This is one large thing going in," he said.

Ms. van Arsdale explained that the planning office staff had looked at the area as a whole, not just the proposed site. "The one thing missing from the corridor is a large box-type warehouse," she said.

Many at the meeting also questioned whether the developer would back up its promises with guarantees.

Gary Stammer, who lives in York Manor, was concerned about expected runoff from the Price Club site to a stream bordering the property. "I ask for a quantification of what amount of contamination they anticipate and how they will control it," he said. "I hope enforcement, accountability and penalties will be instituted up front."

On Price Club's behalf, Tom Sadowski of the county Economic Development Commission pointed out the anticipated positive economic aspects. "Anything that brings more traffic into the area is good for small businesses," he said. Also, "it will put businesses in the position to be more competitive; consumers benefit from competition."

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