Panel OKs center appeal But county officials might not fund suit on Promenade approval

'Looking to hear advice'

Developer plans offices, movie theater, retail complex, restaurants

July 16, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The Carroll planning commission has narrowly reaffirmed its decision to take the county Board of Zoning Appeals to court over a proposed $32 million shopping center in Eldersburg.

But the County Commissioners might not fund the lawsuit.

The commissioners will meet with their attorney at 10 a.m. today to discuss the planning panel's rationale for appealing the zoning appeals board's April 20 decision, which would allow developer Bernard G. Robbins to build his Promenade at Eldersburg shopping center.

Robbins wants to build three restaurants, a 14-screen theater with stadium seating, a 300,000-square-foot retail complex and a two-story office center on 36 acres at Londontown Boulevard and Route 32.

Zoned for industrial use, the site has been vacant for more than two decades and is likely to remain vacant if the county does not convert it to commercial use, supporters say.

In a 2-1 vote, the Board of Appeals did exactly that, permitting a shopping center to be built on the Londontown property as a conditional use.

Nearby residents and merchants at a 2-decade-old shopping mall about a mile away opposed the Promenade plans so vigorously that Robbins' request for a conditional use became one of the most protracted cases in Board of Appeals history.

The opponents' attorney, Michelle Ostrander, has filed a "notice of intention to participate" in the planning commission's lawsuit.

During the Board of Zoning Appeals hearing, opponents focused on two issues: traffic and a dearth of industrially zoned property.

The county needs industry to bolster its flagging industrial and -- commercial tax base, they said, because commerce and industry account for only 12 percent of the county's revenues -- the lowest in the metropolitan region.

A traffic expert testified that the Promenade would bring another 15,000 trips a day through what is one of the most congested intersections in the county.

The Route 26-Route 32 intersection is expected to receive a State Highway Administration failure rating within four years, but Robbins promised to make $800,000 worth of improvements.

County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said yesterday that background will have little to do with whether he votes to fund the planning commission's appeal.

"I have not heard the grounds on which they are appealing," he said. "I will not be looking to hear advice about whether the case is winable, but whether there is a legal question at issue that is best decided by a judge."

If he becomes convinced that is the case, he would "follow through and support the appeal," Brown said.

County Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he will look for a legal opinion on the planning commission's potential to win the appeal.

"I don't know whether our attorneys want to commit themselves or not," he said.

County Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who is the commissioners' liaison to the planning panel, cast the deciding vote Tuesday when the planning commission reaffirmed its unanimous decision of June 17 to appeal the case. There is little doubt about where he stands, he said. He will be looking for at least one more vote today to fund the lawsuit.

Yates is concerned that industrially zoned property in Eldersburg has evaporated over the years through the use of zoning exceptions approved by the Board of Appeals.

"I'm a little concerned, and I want to know legally if that's the proper thing to do," Yates said.

Eldersburg residents who live near the proposed shopping center "spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying homes they thought would be next to an industrial park," he said. "I would like to know if a nonelected board can change that."

Planning commission members Grant S. Dannelly of Marriottsville and Deborah L. Ridgely of Finksburg joined Yates on Tuesday in voting to reaffirm the decision to continue the TTC appeal. Members Maurice E. Wheatley of Sykesville and Edward M. Beard of Westminster voted to drop it.

The court does not generally substitute its opinion for that of an official board that routinely decides zoning matters, Wheatley said.

"The neighbors had their day in court and lost, and I think we're going to have our day in court and lose," he said. "I don't want to waste money on a lost cause."

It would cost the county $7,145 to copy the exhibits and the transcript of the Board of Zoning Appeals hearing that would be required in court.

Ridgely said she voted to continue the suit because she is convinced, based on the advice of the panel's attorney, that the issues are not only appealable, but winnable.

The planning commission voted unanimously June 16 to appeal the case because the panel was facing a June 29 deadline. Members voted for the appeal with the understanding that they could later re-evaluate their position -- which they did Tuesday night.

Pub Date: 7/16/98

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