Residents, developer clash over rezoning land Board hears case concerning strip mall on Montgomery Road

July 24, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Opposed to a proposed strip mall on Montgomery Road, nine Ellicott City residents argued yesterday before the Zoning Board that it would be better for the community to keep houses on the property.

But a local developer said two other residents -- who live on the proposed site -- want to sell because the area is no longer fit for homes.

Triangle Development Corp. and residents opposed to the mall finished presenting their conflicting visions yesterday of what the parcel across from Long Gate Shopping Center should be -- a small residential community or a five-store strip mall.

There are six houses on the Montgomery Road development site, but some are abandoned and the only remaining residents, Mary Grace Howard and Ralph Bathgate, have joined Triangle in petitioning the Howard County Zoning Board to rezone the land from residential to commercial. The board is expected to make a decision Wednesday.

Howard and Bathgate have said that since Long Gate was completed in 1995, the living situation has become unbearable because of traffic, noise, bright lights and restaurant odors.

"I think -- to some degree -- the board didn't know about the effect a shopping center of this size would have on these properties," said Tom Meachum, Triangle's attorney. "These are the only residents across from Long Gate."

But community members from nearby Wheatfield and other neighborhoods objected, saying the area is becoming too commercial.

"When are we going to learn to say enough" to commercial development, asked Betty Chambers of Old Columbia Pike.

DTC "The answer has to be now," said Alan Pomerantz, a Wheatfield resident.

To rezone county property, a petitioner must prove there was a legal mistake in the original zoning or the neighborhood's character has changed.

Wheatfield residents said the developer hadn't met either condition. They noted the board decided July 8 not to rezone a neighboring site on Montgomery Road from residential to commercial.

If the board did make a wrong decision by not rezoning the Montgomery Road properties in 1993, during a comprehensive zoning review, that "does not constitute a [legal] mistake," Pomerantz said.

But Meachum said the board did not consider in 1993 the effects a shopping center such as Long Gate would have on the residents.

Only appearance considered

He said the board looked only at the effect the center's appearance would have on Montgomery Road residents, not the increased light, noise, odor and traffic. Not considering those factors was a mistake, he said.

"This is not a situation where you have to guess what the board took into account. Just look at the transcript" from 1993, he added. "It is clear that the assumptions have proved to be wrong over time."

But development opponents said Bathgate and Howard have alternatives to selling.

"Neither Mr. Bathgate or any other resident had made an effort to mitigate the noise" with a fence or trees, said Robert Bernstein, a resident of Old Columbia Pike.

No offers for houses made

Some residents said the pair could sell their houses or develop others on the property.

"Their properties are viable as residential land," Pomerantz said.

But Bathgate and the Rev. Bruce A. Romoser, pastor at the neighboring Bethel Baptist Church, said the five-lane road is too dangerous because there are no shoulders. They said they don't think anyone would want to live there.

Bathgate and Howard "never got any written offers on any of the houses," Meachum said.

Pub Date: 7/24/98

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