Residents skeptical of center plans Crowded roads feared if Promenade is built

March 08, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The prospect of jobs, a community center, glitzy theaters and trendy shops is not enough to counter the prospect of 14,000 more vehicles a day on roads that already post some of the highest traffic counts and accident statistics in the county, Eldersburg residents say.

After a day and a half of hearing experts extol the proposed $30 million Promenade at Eldersburg as the mecca for South Carroll, residents had a chance Friday to address the Board of Zoning Appeals with concerns for safety, property values and government's broken promises.

The three-member board must grant developer Bernard G. Robbins a conditional use before he can build a shopping center with a 14-screen theater complex on the the 36-acre industrial property at Londontown Boulevard and Route 32.

"Existing retail is floundering here," said Pam Seiter of Eldersburg. "Why do we need more retail?"

Robbins has the research to back his claims that the population -- at 28,000, the county's largest -- and average house-hold income can support a 300,000-square-foot retail complex. He envisions the Promenade as a gathering place for residents, a boon to their quality of life.

"I take great offense to anyone equating my quality of life to the availability of shopping," said Jean Hruch of Eldersburg.

One market study said that South Carroll has the potential for $131 million in sales annually, but only about one-third of that is spent at local businesses now.

"We keep hearing there are not enough shops and restaurants," said Becky Lambros of Brynwood Hills, a subdivision less than a quarter-mile from the proposed center. "But there has been a dramatic growth in the number of homes. Obviously, people are coming here for what is not here."

Lambros urged a renovation of existing shopping, instead of more development. The Promenade would compete with Carrolltown Center, the area's only enclosed mall. Carrolltown owners announced plans last week to renovate the 20-year-old center, adding five movie screens and stadium seats to the six theaters there now.

Maury Levin, a commercial broker and investor in the project, said the Promenade will not mean the closing of Carrolltown.

"Everybody thought the opening of Wal-Mart would mean the closing of Kmart [at Carrolltown], but it hasn't happened," he said.

Several of the more than 50 people attending the hearing said, "Not yet."

Edward Zitka moved to Patriots Choice six years ago, knowing his neighbor was the Eldersburg Business Center. The industrial park was so well planned and zoned only for light industry, he decided to build his house. But a shopping center is quite different from industrial users, Zitka said.

Robbins has agreed to spend $800,000 to improve the three nearest intersections, including the crossing at Routes 32 and 26. One county official called the amount low for the work involved.

"If it goes over $800,000, the project would have to get bigger to support the cost of improving the roads," said Maury Levin, a commercial real estate broker and Promenade investor.

The property has been on the market for nearly 30 years. Originally farmland, it was zoned industrial as part of the 1977 Freedom mini-plan, a blueprint for growth for South Carroll. It is surrounded by commercial development, making it less attractive to industry. Jack Feeser bought the property nine years ago, hoping for a quick turnaround. He said there were no offers.

John T. "Jack" Lyburn, county economic development director, said with the opening of Wal-Mart and a Giant, the neighborhood is driving the site to retail.

"As far as industrial property goes, this site is competing with others in the county that go for $70,000 an acre," Lyburn said. "This site is $150,000 for an acre of land. If a broker could get a commission on this property, it would have been sold a long time ago."

Steve Horn, county chief of planning, said the intended use for the property from Route 26 north to Bennett Road was an industrial park.

"Obviously that didn't happen," said Horn. "The feasibility of an industrial park has deteriorated because of adjacent uses. Commercial now is much more feasible on this site."

The board will continue the hearing at 9: 30 a.m. March 18 at the Carroll County Agricultural Center in Westminster.

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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