Howard rejects rezoning for a mall Montgomery Road plan rejected on 3-1 vote

July 30, 1998|By NANCY A. YOUSSEF | NANCY A. YOUSSEF,SUN STAFF

Howard County Zoning Board members rejected a proposal last night to convert an Ellicott City site with six homes into a strip mall, voting 3-1 to keep the area across Montgomery Road from Long Gate Shopping Center zoned residential.

Board member Charles C. Feaga cast the dissenting vote. Chairman Darrel E. Drown recused himself, but did not give a reason.

The change in zoning from residential to commercial for the strip mall was sought by residents Ralph Bathgate and Mary Grace Howard, who have lived on the 6-acre site of the proposed strip mall for a combined 99 years.

A developer told them the site would be suitable for a strip mall.

In a hearing July 8, Bathgate and Howard contended that the new zoning is warranted because the board made a mistake by not rezoning the site when it approved the Long Gate center in 1993, failing to consider the effects of the shopping center on the houses across the street.

But several zoning board members said the Montgomery Road residents did not prove a mistake was made.

"What wasn't known about the property across the street [in 1993] as it relates to the shopping center that is known now?" board member Dennis R. Schrader asked. "Very little."

"We presume there would be noise and there would be some odor," said board member C. Vernon Gray. "We really did not enter in this with our eyes closed. Our eyes were open."

Council members said Bathgate and Howard had not proved their case.

"Even if someone said that this is a bad decision, that's not a mistake," Schrader said.

Feaga argued that the board was adhering too strictly to the laws.

"A governing board has to go a little bit beyond that [law] book," XTC he said. "I think we are elected to have a good common sense. I wouldn't want to live there."

Neighboring Wheatfield residents -- who opposed the strip mall -- said they were pleasantly surprised by the decision.

"Everyone thought it was a done deal. It wasn't a done deal," said Cathy Higgins. The board "did their job."

But Tom Meachum, representing the prospective developer, said the board did not fully examine the case.

"I didn't hear anyone say that [Bathgate and Howard] have not been adversely and negatively affected," said Meachum, who has no plans to appeal the decision.

Before Long Gate was completed in 1995, Bathgate and Howard said their homes looked out to farmland.

Since its completion, they said, living in their homes is unbearable.

"You can't open the window" because of the noise and lights, Bathgate said. "I don't know who would want to buy these houses."

They were approached by Triangle Development Corp. representative Chris Pippen, who said their property was an ideal location for a strip mall.

"There's a need for additional retail," Pippen said. "The same kind of markets that drove [Long Gate] tenants here creates smaller markets."

Wheatfield residents -- who presented their case July 23 -- opposed additional commercial development at the site.

"That particular area of Howard County does not need additional retail," said Alan Pomerantz, a Wheatfield resident.

They also said Bathgate and Howard did not take any measures to screen out the problems created by the shopping center, such as building a fence or planting bushes in front of the house.

"There are alternatives to the noise, other than rezoning," said Wheatfield resident Terry Phillips.

Pub Date: 7/30/98

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