Critical juncture in Eldersburg Planning body must address traffic woes before shopping center is approved.

May 06, 1998

THE CARROLL County Board of Zoning Appeals has approved a 36-acre shopping and entertainment complex near the county's busiest intersection -- and passed the buck to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Not that the zoning board, which has regularly disagreed with the planning commission, has malicious intent. The law empowers the planning body to analyze traffic issues and set conditions for development before a project wins building plan approval.

This is a difficult case: a $30 million commercial development promising jobs and tax revenues proposed in the middle of existing megastores on an overburdened highway. "Commercial" is the dominant use of this area of Eldersburg. The Promenade land is zoned "light industrial" (which required the BZA to rule on its commercial use, permitted by law).

The zoning board's majority decision was largely based on faith -- that developer Bernard Robbins' pledge of $800,000 toward infrastructure would help ease congestion. Or that the state would finally see how badly Route 32 needs to be widened and improved, and would come up with some money.

The state has done little for this stretch of highway as it reaches critical overload because of business and residential development.

Maybe 15,000 extra daily auto trips generated by the Promenade would spur action.

None of this is very appealing for the community, which will bear the brunt of the backed-up traffic (or road construction delays). Residents may appeal the BZA decision in court, but there's not much hope in that course.

So it comes down to the planning commission's analyzing the traffic impact and setting conditions for the development to proceed. This must not be a cursory review, but one that insists upon careful crafting of traffic flow solutions. The developer's $800,000 offer should not be viewed as the limit for road improvements, which were sorely needed even before the shopping center was proposed.

Pub Date: 5/06/98

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