Price Club seeks change in zoning designation Warehouse store disputes 'manufacturing' definition, wants switch to 'business'

March 28, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Price Club officials are asking Baltimore County to redefine their business -- a move that could open thousands of acres in the county to membership warehouse stores.

County planners support the change, which would allow Price Club to build on property zoned for business rather than manufacturing, as currently required.

"We view the Price Club as a retail use. These should be in business zones," planner Jeffrey Long of the Office of Planning said Tuesday at a zoning hearing.

But some community members are concerned about the change. A zoning hearing, they say, was not the forum for an interpretation of a zoning law.

"There is an impact on the whole county. It should be approved by the Planning Board and County Council," said Eleanor VanDevender, president of the Maiden Choice Community Association in Arbutus.

Also at issue was whether Price Club is a retailer or a wholesaler.

"I think the customers would be upset if they thought they were not getting wholesale prices," said Martha Clarke of Towson, who opposed the zoning change.

Neal Harris, southeast region vice president of Price/Costco Inc., said the company had shifted its target customer, from the small-business owner who bought products to resell to others, to individuals who buy in bulk. "That's about 90 percent of our business," he said.

Today's Price Club has such departments as a gourmet deli, bakery, pharmacy, fresh produce and photo shops that did not exist in the late 1980s.

"There is a lot of competition," Mr. Harris said. "It changed the business from what it was to a full-service place."

"Price Club . . . is like any other department store/food store," added attorney Robert A. Hoffman, representing Price/Costco.

Stores allowed in business zones include Sears, Caldor, Giant Food, Wal-Mart and Target, and such "big-box" operations as Home Depot, Office Depot, Circuit City and Best Buy. The county has almost 3,000 acres of land zoned as business.

Membership warehouse stores, such as Pace, Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale Club, were not included in Price Club's zoning petition. But if the county changes the application of zoning laws in the Price Club case, it could affect those stores, too.

The Kirkland, Wash.-based company -- which says it is not targeting any specific property for a store -- also is asking that a 1986 zoning order placing membership warehouse stores in a light manufacturing zone be nullified.

The county also wants to save such land for companies that provide more jobs, Mr. Long said. "I can't overemphasize the far-reaching economic implications," he said.

But Leon Rozankowski, who lives near Towson Marketplace, said he was worried that the zoning change would allow mega-stores to locate at the mall, which is being redeveloped. "The area is not suitable for a Price Club."

A typical Price Club averages about 130,000 square feet, with parking for about 600 to 700 cars, Mr. Harris said.

Mr. Hoffman said, "We can't say they never looked at the Towson Marketplace site, but right now they are not in negotiations for that spot."

Price Club has four Maryland stores -- White Marsh, Glen Burnie, Beltsville and Gaithersburg. It has about 240 stores nationwide.

Its most recent foray into the state -- and county -- was defeated in June when the Planning Board rejected a store proposed for a 13-acre Timonium parcel in a manufacturing zone near the State Fairgrounds. Hundreds of community residents protested the store, citing the potential for more traffic, environmental problems and lower property values.

Hearing officer Timothy M. Kotroco, deputy zoning commissioner, said he did not expect to make a decision on the zoning change for at least two weeks.

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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