Residents want commissioners to curtail South Carroll commercial development Proposed retail center draws protests

January 25, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

South Carroll residents are asking the County Commissioners to curtail commercial development near the severely congested intersection of Routes 26 and 32.

More than 70 people met with county officials Thursday to protest a proposed retail center and 14-screen theater complex at Londontown Boulevard and Route 32, about a quarter-mile from the intersection, often rated as the county's worst crossroads.

They asked the commissioners to do whatever they can to prevent the development at the industrial-zoned site.

"If it takes a zoning text amendment and petitions, that is what we will do," said Carolyn Fairbank, chairwoman of the Freedom Area Community Planning Council, a citizen activist group that organized the meeting. "Everybody will know our concerns."

Many added their names to the more than 200 signatures on petitions protesting the project, proposed by Talles-Robbins Eldersburg Development Co., for the 34-acre property behind the Giant Food Inc. store. Those signatures will go to the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission, which will review land-use proposals at its work session Thursday.

"We will evaluate and weigh heavily the petitions and concerns of citizens," said Grant S. Dannelly, the only Eldersburg resident on the seven-member planning commission.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell earned the most belligerent reaction from the crowd, when he prefaced his remarks with, "I didn't ask you to come to Carroll County."

Several people walked out. Others booed. Later, he finished his sentence with, "but I don't blame you for wanting to move here. It is a beautiful place."

The county has a healthy growth rate of 2.5 percent annually, but Carroll needs more business and industry, Dell said.

"If the county is so desperate for industrial property in this area, why turn this land into commercial use?" Fairbank asked.

John T. Lyburn Jr., county economic development director, favors a mix of business and industry, but commercial development -- such as Wal-Mart and Giant Food -- has driven up the cost of industrial land in Eldersburg to nearly $200,000 an acre.

"We will work with the zoning, whatever it is," Lyburn said. "But, industry is so price-sensitive that other places in the county are more attractive."

While South Carroll offers some of the most marketable sites in the county, it also is the most expensive location, perhaps because of its proximity to Interstate 70, Lyburn said.

"Commercial brokers are telling us commercial is the best use for this land, based on the neighborhood and the high price," he said.

Rosemary Wagner said South Carroll does not need more homes or businesses.

"Put some industry down here and give people jobs," she said.

Eldersburg annually absorbs one-third of all growth in the county and is Carroll's most populous area with about 27,000 people.

Daily traffic counts at Routes 26 and 32 -- the main arteries for all South Carroll -- reach 34,000 vehicles on Route 26 and exceed 21,000 on Route 32, a road many use to reach Columbia and Interstates 70 and 95.

"It is already a killing field, and it is getting worse," said Commissioner Richard T. Yates.

As an unincorporated area, Eldersburg lacks a mayor, council or planning commission. Often, the first residents know of a project is at a groundbreaking. Many feel removed from the decisions that affect their neighborhood's future.

A Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on the retail project had been set for Thursday but was postponed until late next month.

Bernard G. Robbins, the developer, was expected to ask for a conditional use on the site, zoned for industrial use. If the planning commission recommends that the property be rezoned commercial, no hearing will be necessary and the project could proceed through the development review process.

Organizers had invited Robbins to the meeting.

William Dulany, the developer's attorney, said, "Our plans were not finalized in time for the meeting. We are continuing with preparations for the hearing."

Donna Slack of Eldersburg mapped out several new businesses -- restaurants, a gas station and car wash, a post office and a medical center, all operating, under construction or approved near the intersection.

"These are already approved and will be here at some point," Slack said. "If the intersection is set to fail without any more development, what are we doing? Commercial use generates six times as much traffic as industry."

Of greatest concern is the proposed 2,900-seat movie complex that Slack conservatively estimated would draw about 60,000 vehicles a week.

Yates promised to support any effort to keep the land industrial. He asked residents to remember that the zoning board and planning commission act independently of the commissioners.

"You are responsible for protecting land as it is zoned, making sure it stays that way," said Becky Lambros, who recently moved to Eldersburg from Bowie.

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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