Condo owners protest eatery County appeals board hears neighbors object to Chick-Fil-A site

'We're neophytes'

Declining property values, congestion, 'gaudy' signs noted

October 14, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

When Kenneth L. Chamberlain bought a townhouse condominium in Ellicott City two years ago, he never dreamed that someone would build a Chick-Fil-A drive-through restaurant practically across the street.

Chamberlain, 62, a retired engineer, didn't even know until a month ago that zoning laws would allow it. Chamberlain and about 40 of his neighbors attended a Howard County Zoning Board of Appeals hearing in Ellicott City last night to protest the planned fast-food restaurant.

Late last night, Chamberlain was still testifying and the board had not voted on whether to let the project proceed.

Chamberlain, president of the Ellicott Park Townhouse Condominium Section Two Association Inc., a group of 56 condominium owners on Lee Farm Court, argued on behalf of his neighbors that the proposed restaurant would lower their property values and cause traffic congestion.

"Our only hope is that it will not result in a fatality," he said.

But Joe Dinoto, the prospective owner and operator, sought to convince the Zoning Board and the neighbors that his restaurant is not like most fast-food outlets.

"We don't consider ourselves fast food," said Dinoto, who owns and operates the Chick-Fil-A in the Mall in Columbia. "Quick service, yes, but there's nothing fast about the way we prepare our food."

Chamberlain and the other Lee Farm Court residents are doing whatever they can to stop the restaurant from being built.

"We're a small community and we're tired of being somebody's pawn," Chamberlain said before the meeting. He and the other residents live off Executive Park Drive on a parcel across the street from the proposed restaurant.

The appeal last night focused on a requested waiver that would allow a Dumpster to sit closer to Route 100 than normally permitted.

But the waiver, Chamberlain said, is the least of residents' problems. They believe their property values will fall as a result of congestion and "gaudy-looking" fast-food signs so close to their homes. They worry about loitering teen-agers and a possible increase in crime, he said.

"Who wants to live in a retail area?" asked Chamberlain.

He said he paid about $170,000 for his home and estimates the average townhouse in the area sells for about $156,000. "I bet I couldn't get near what I paid for this place," he said.

When Chamberlain heard about the proposed Chick-Fil-A he wrote a letter to Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the Department of Planning and Zoning for Howard County, and sent copies to local politicians. He prepared a petition protesting the waiver, which 69 residents signed.

Despite his efforts, he feels overwhelmed by the process.

"We're neophytes," Chamberlain said. "We don't have all the rules, and I'm afraid that we're a fish out of water.

"I feel helpless," he added. "Absolutely helpless."

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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