Officials delay vote on funding Yates wants to hear from state, residents on Promenade project

Zoning lawsuit at issue

July 22, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

For the second time in two weeks, the County Commissioners postponed yesterday a decision about whether to fund a lawsuit challenging the Board of Zoning Appeals' approval of a proposed $32 million shopping center in Eldersburg.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates asked to delay a vote on the planning commission's lawsuit one more week to hear from constituents and state Department of Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead.

Developer Bernard G. Robbins has proposed spending $800,000 to improve the Route 32-Route 26 intersection, the county's busiest, if his Promenade at Eldersburg shopping center is built near there. His plans call for three restaurants, a 14-screen theater with stadium seating, a 300,000-square-foot retail complex and a two-story office center on the 36-acre site.

Yates wants Winstead to tell him the money will be enough to make the improvements needed to handle the 15,000 additional trips through the intersection daily that the project is expected to produce. The intersection is expected to fall below the state's minimum guidelines for a crossroads by 2000, even if no new development occurs in the area.

"I want to get with the state to see whether $800,000 is going to cure the problem," Yates said. "I've written to ask Winstead if that is adequate. And if not, what is the state going to do to alleviate the problem? If the state says it will alleviate the problem, I don't see any sense going ahead with the court case."

The site at Londontown Boulevard and Route 32, which is zoned for industrial use, has been vacant more than two decades. The appeals board, on a 2-1 vote, approved the shopping center as a conditional use April 20.

Opponents argued through six days of hearings that traffic generated by the project would hasten the breakdown of the Route 32-Route 26 intersection.

Appeals board members Hoby D. Wolf and Karl V. Reichlin acknowledged that the $800,000 pledged by Robbins would not be enough to cure the intersection's woes, but said, "It would be better than nothing."

Yates' deciding vote

Yates, the commissioners' liaison to the planning commission, was not present when the panel voted unanimously June 19 to take the appeals board to court over its Promenade decision. However, he cast the deciding vote in favor of the suit when the panel revisited the issue July 14.

"It looked like [the suit] was going to die," Yates said. "I thought it was a reasonable request to see if the County Commissioners would fund it."

Yates sent letters to constituents in the Eldersburg area July 17 asking what they thought about the Promenade project.

"I've only gotten a trickle" of responses, he said, "but what it sounds like to me is that people are not so resistant as to what may go in there" at the Londontown Road site. "What they're afraid of is the traffic."

The County Commissioners met with the planning panel yesterday to hear members' views regarding the suit.

Grant S. Dannelly of Marriottsville said he voted for the suit because of potential traffic problems and because the miniplan to guide growth in the area calls for light industry at the site rather than a large commercial center.

The commissioners should fund the suit because the planning panel "represents the citizens," Dannelly said. If the commissioners do not fund the suit, "it would set a bad precedent," he said.

Deborah L. Ridgely of Finksburg noted a concern for public safety as the basis for her vote to proceed with the suit.

'Major traffic hazard'

"The magnitude of the project is going to create a major traffic hazard," she said. "It is a major recipe for an increase in serious accidents."

Maurice E. Wheatley of Eldersburg said he voted against pursuing the suit because he does not think the planning commission can win it.

The panel's attorney advised members that "the zoning board, not the court, is considered the expert in zoning matters," Wheatley said.

A 'futile' effort

Edward M. Beard of Westminster, who also voted to drop the suit, said to pursue it further was "futile." The appeals board "acted within its legal authority," he said. "Based on court precedence, we are not going to prevail."

Melvin E. Baile Jr. of New Windsor voted for the suit initially, but was not present when the issue was revisited.

"The main thing that infuriates me," he said, "is that there are inconsistencies between the Board of Zoning Appeals and the planning commission. The Board of Zoning Appeals is not bound by the master plan" to guide the county's growth, but the planning commission is.

"As long as that continues, there will be more and more confrontations," he said.

Be prepared

Planning commission Chairman Thomas G. Hiltz of Woodbine, who does not vote except in case of a tie, was not present yesterday, but he had said earlier that if the County Commissioners agree to fund the suit, they should be prepared to fund it all the way to Maryland's highest court, if necessary.

The initial cost of reproducing the exhibits and transcript of the Board of Zoning Appeals hearing required by the Circuit Court would be $7,145.

An appeal to a higher court would cost several times that much, the commissioners were told.

No new date was set for the decision on funding the suit.

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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