Rezoning a small parcel in western Ellicott City for commercial and residential development will invite criminals and heavy traffic, opponents told the county Zoning Board at a hearing late Wednesday.
The developer says he is seeking the change to create a "more intimate space" with quiet walks and park benches in a Colonial Williamsburg-type setting.
"Putting in a convenience store, putting in rental properties and retail properties that aren't really needed [is] just going to draw unsavory people, transients who don't have a vested interest in LTC the maintenance or security of the area," said John B. Stocker, a resident of the nearby Turf Valley Overlook community.
The 55-acre development, called Terra Maria -- Latin for Maryland -- is sandwiched between Route 144 and U.S. 40. It would have narrow streets, a village green, a community center fashioned from an old building on the site and about 90 colonial-style houses with gabled windows, and alleyways leading to hidden garages.
One feature of the neotraditional design for Terra Maria is apartments above shops and small offices, which the proposal for convenience center zoning would allow. Housing is already permitted by residential zoning granted in 1992.
Mr. Stocker's community is north across U.S. 40 from the site, but the proposed commercial parcel is to the south on the Route 144 side of the development.
The plan for the site by developer Donald R. Reuwer calls for two 60-by-60-foot buildings, each with 4,000 square feet of retail space and 4,000 square feet of office space on the first floor, and up to four apartments above.
Several of the 12 opponents who testified at the hearing said the project would bring big-city problems, such as crime, to the area.
Columbia, they said, exemplifies such problems. Mr. Stocker said real estate agents have told him that the planned community is a failure, and he said violent crime statistics support that contention.
Democratic Councilman C. Vernon Gray of the 2nd District who represents much of East Columbia, said Mr. Stocker's remarks offended him.
"I know the kind of things Realtors say to lure people to a certain area where they're selling houses," Mr. Gray said, alluding to the practice of steering homebuyers by race.
The rezoning also was opposed by a resident and part-owner of one of the county's largest undeveloped pieces of land, Philip Carroll of Doughoregan Manor, which includes about 2,000 acres across Route 144 from the site.
"If there is any need whatsoever to commercialize this hitherto peaceful residential neighborhood, it is not evident," he wrote to the board. "Within a mile and a half of the subject property, there are no less than four large -- and still expanding -- shopping centers and office parks."
Eskin T. Boden Jr., president of one of the Turf Valley Overlook homeowner associations, said Route 144 has no apartment buildings on it, as witnesses for the development told the board at an earlier hearing.
Mr. Boden said he has seen signs of urban blight where Columbia's planners employed similar development schemes, mixing small retail stores, community centers and homes. He said he recently saw a burned-out, boarded-up community center near a convenience store with "teen-agers hanging around."
He also said he visited Williamsburg recently and "found no apartment buildings."
The Zoning Board will hold a work session at 8:30 p.m. June 5 in the George Howard county office building to discuss and vote on the Terra Maria zoning request.