Board rejects Route 103 rezoning Developers sought OK for two restaurants and office building

July 09, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Some Ellicott City residents said they are one step closer to stopping commercial growth along Montgomery Road after the Howard County Zoning Board rejected a proposal yesterday to build two restaurants and an office building across from Long Gate shopping center.

The next step, residents say, will be to stop the latest project -- a strip mall in the same area.

The Zoning Board, composed of the members of the County Council, turned down the rezoning for the restaurants and office building yesterday on a 3-2 vote that split Republican council members Charles C. Feaga and Dennis R. Schrader, who are candidates for county executive in the primary.

The Planning Board had reached the same conclusion in March, unanimously rejecting the rezoning proposals.

Davco Restaurants Inc. of Crofton petitioned to have 6 acres on the north side of Route 103 -- Montgomery Road -- rezoned to commercial to build Wendy's and Friendly's restaurants. Montgomery Road Partnership petitioned to rezone a 1.3-acre tract adjacent to the Davco lot to build an office building.

Yesterday's decision keeps both areas residential.

"The quality of life here has just increased as a result of this decision," said David Catania, treasurer of Wheatfield Community Association, who lives near the tracts. "We're extremely happy that the Zoning Board and the Planning Board listened."

To rezone property in the county, a petitioner must show there was mistake in the original zoning or the land's character has changed because of the surrounding neighborhood.

During an hourlong discussion, Zoning Board members said the developers did not prove overwhelmingly that the character had changed, even though the Long Gate center had been built across the street.

"This is a very painful case," Schrader said. "I'm trying to search for the evidence that says this [zoning] is a mistake, and I can't find it."

Board Chairman Darrel E. Drown -- who voted in favor of the proposal -- said the Zoning Board should have rezoned these lots in 1993, when the board rezoned the property for Long Gate.

"I really am thinking there is a mistake, and that we should have considered" the Davco and Montgomery Road Partnership property, he said.

But that mistake was not enough to give the petitioners the legal backing they need, said Zoning Board member Mary C. Lorsung, who voted against rezoning the property.

"Wrong isn't the same as legal mistake," Lorsung said.

'Close to the line'

Schrader said: "This is close enough to the line that a good attorney could make an argument" that it should remain residential.

Feaga and Drown argued that the area has changed so much that the tracts under consideration would no longer be suitable as a residential site.

"I think we have to ask if this is fit for residential, and whether we would consider living there," Feaga said.

"When you look at the surrounding area, it is clear that it is not suitable for a residential area," Drown said.

Board members also considered how rezoning the property would affect traffic and residents in nearby Wheatfield.

Lorsung said she concluded that developing the area would not have a heavy impact on local traffic.

For the majority, the decision came down to meeting the legal standard for rezoning.

"What evidence did the petitioner show?" board member C. Vernon Gray said.

"The bottom line is that there was absolutely no proof of a legal mistake," said Alan Pomerantz, Wheatfield Homeowners Association member.

'Disappointed' by decision

David Carney, a Columbia attorney representing both developers, questioned how the board looked at the case.

"I'm obviously disappointed," Carney said. "I think a couple members took an overstrung approach to the law."

He said he believes the board focused on the technical details of the law instead of looking at the overall proposal.

But residents said that development in the area has already gone too far.

"I would have had to move because [commercial development] would have begun [and] gone all the way down Montgomery Road," Catania said.

Residents are planning to oppose building a strip mall on an adjoining 6-acre lot.

Triangle Development Corp. began presenting its case last night, claiming that the residential zoning on the land is a mistake since the Long Gate center was built.

Wheatfield Homeowner Association members were on hand to hear the arguments.

The Planning Board split 2-2 on this case in March, passing it on to the Zoning Board with no recommendation.

"We have to fight this all the way down Montgomery Road -- and we will," Catania said.

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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