Planning Board Correct on 'Chalice'

September 06, 1995

Yet another group of Howard County residents has walked out of a planning board meeting feeling that its views were not adequately heard.

This time it was over efforts to get the county's planning board to reconsider its preliminary approval of the Rouse Co.'s Chalice shopping development.

Board members said "no" to a request to rehear the case, prompting a flurry of angry charges that board members favor developers.

Still, this periodic lament says less about planning board procedures than about human nature. When it comes to developments that residents don't want, nothing short of stopping the project ever seems acceptable.

For its part, the planning board appears to have played by the rules in approving the 73-acre Chalice development, which will put a 440,000-square-foot "power" center just off Little Patuxent Parkway in East Columbia. The project, modeled after Rouse's successful Snowden Square retail center, is expected to be a major boon to the county's economy.

Residents' objections have centered on potential traffic problems caused by the development. However, in the weeks in which the controversy has festered, opponents have offered nothing publicly or in hearings that proves their position.

Planning board members went into this one with their eyes open, relying on a staff report that concluded that the development would not adversely affect traffic in the area.

The fact that county officials support the project, assuming that substantial road improvements will begin within two years, shows a far-sighted approach that is essential if economic development is to continue.

Still, there are things the planning board could have done to avoid the appearance of favoritism. One would have been to allow a period of rebuttal after initial witnesses were heard in July. The fact that board members felt they had heard it all the first time around does not negate the need to reassure the community when the case is as sensitive as this one.

But the planning board was right in standing behind its earlier decision and refusing to rehear the case. The Chalice development can now move forward.

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