Shopping center foes fear traffic, other ills Zoning board finishes third day of testimony

March 19, 1998|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN STAFF

A battle pitting residents against a developer proposing a $30 million shopping center on Route 32 in Eldersburg continues.

The county Board of Zoning Appeals yesterday finished its third day of testimony and has at least one more day to go before it begins deliberation on the controversial proposal. The board will continue the hearing on March 30.

Developer Bernard G. Rollins has marshaled a parade of expert witnesses who have promised an economic boom, jobs, the latest in movie and shopping technology and $800,000 to improve the intersections nearest the project.

His attorney objected when a resident gave an opinion on traffic and property values.

"She is not an expert," William Dulany said.

"The only thing I am expert at is being a housewife," said Donna Slack.

Slack and other residents opposed to the Promenade at Eldersburg readily admit little expertise on such issues. But they do have visions of declining property values and increased traffic -- a projected 15,000 vehicles a day more -- on already crowded roads.

Even with promised improvements, Routes 32 and 26 will operate at a poor level of service, according to a county-commissioned traffic study.

Before Rollins can proceed with the complex on 32 acres at Londontown Boulevard and Route 32, the board must grant a conditional use for the industrial-zoned property.

Many residents who purchased upscale homes were comfortable with a well-landscaped industrial park as a neighbor. Now, they say the county is breaking its promise to keep the land for light industry.

Slack's $240,000 home is 500 feet from the proposed complex, which could include 14 a movie-screen theater. When she and her husband bought their home in Parrish Park four years ago, they were unaware of the possibility of commercial use.

"How could you know, without going through volumes of zoning regulations?" she said.

Differences from The Avenue

Since Slack learned of the possibility of a promenade near her back yard, she has spent hours combing county records. She asked the board to consider a new draft of the county master plan, which says homes that cost $200,000 and more pay enough taxes to support roads and schools.

"We are some of the few residents that pay our own way as far NTC as taxes are concerned," she said.

Slack also visited The Avenue at White Marsh, a shopping and theater complex to which the developer has likened to his project. She used a Baltimore County zoning map to point out the differences.

"There are no residences within 3,000 feet and those are across Interstate 95 from The Avenue," Slack said. "Upscale homes are about 3.5 miles away."

Items dismissed

Slack asked the board to consider photographs, maps and various documents, some culled from local newspapers. Many were dismissed as hearsay.

Michelle Ostrander, attorney for the opponents, came to Slack's defense.

"Mrs. Slack has done everything possible to pull together information," Ostrander said. "This is the only way a citizens' group can present its case."

Ostrander said she had difficulty locating experts to testify for her clients. Many of those she called do business with Rollins.

For-sale signs

She subpoenaed county employees, hired an appraiser more familiar with Baltimore County than Carroll County and persuaded a real estate agent to speak before the board.

Oscar A. Meyers, the appraiser, canvassed the Eldersburg neighborhoods last week. He noted numerous homes for sale, "a sign that something is going on," he said.

"When people, especially those in higher-priced homes, get scared of increased traffic, they will move," said Meyers. "People in that price range normally go for seclusion and low traffic."

'Shopping in my face'

Carol Gaidula, a real estate agent with 20 years' experience in Carroll County, said buyers will move farther out rather than live near commercial properties.

"Many of us moved here from neighboring counties to get away '' from shopping centers," said Slack. "I am quite happy to drive to a mall. I don't need shopping in my face all the time."

The hearing will continue at 9: 30 a.m. March 30 in Room 300A of the County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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