Retiree rallies against fast-food restaurant Chick-Fil-A would increase traffic, crime near condos, he says

October 20, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Since taking early retirement 2 1/2 years ago, Kenneth Chamberlain has enjoyed sailing on the Chesapeake, reading mystery novels and spending time with his wife, three children and six grandchildren -- all things he never had time to do during a busy career as a civil engineer.

Of late, however, Chamberlain's retirement has taken a less blissful turn. A month ago, the 62-year-old found out that a Chick-Fil-A restaurant is planned across the street from the Ellicott City apartment complex where he lives.

And as fast as it takes to get a chicken sandwich at a drive-through, Chamberlain says his peaceful life has changed for the worse.

Chamberlain -- president of the Ellicott Park Townhouse Condominium Section Two Association Inc., a group of 56 townhouses on Lee Farm Court -- immediately began to organize against the fast-food restaurant. He wrote a letter of protest to the Howard County Zoning Board. He organized a petition drive, collecting 69 signatures. He spent his days on the phone, talking to planners and politicians.

He argued against the restaurant before the Howard County Zoning Board of Appeals, which had its first hearing on the topic Oct. 13 . The board will address the issue again at a work session Thursday and at a second hearing scheduled Dec. 15.

"In Howard County, I'm not against development," Chamberlain said yesterday at his home. "But I sure think they need to control development better than they have."

Chamberlain and his wife, Carole, knew when they bought their home two years ago that the field across from their condominium complex probably would be developed. But they -- and their neighbors -- thought it was zoned for an office complex, not a fast-food restaurant.

They don't think a fast-food restaurant belongs in a residential area because they contend it will attract crime, create traffic nightmares and lower the property values of the surrounding homes.

Chamberlain is no stranger to development. He spent much of his career designing railroad and transit systems in developing countries, traveling extensively in Africa, Central America and South America. Often, he said, he would be away from home weeks or months at a time.

"It gets very old," he said, "and I missed a lot of the kids' growing up."

Chamberlain's background in engineering gives him some leverage in his battle against Chick-Fil-A. Although he said he feels like he's in over his head, at least one neighbor praised him for his skill in handling the situation.

"He's been doing a great deal and a lot of follow-up," said Lucille Conner, a member of the neighborhood association's board. "We feel that he's on top of things. I think his background is very helpful. He's a very intelligent man."

Even William Monk, the planner for the proposed Chick-Fil-A, praised Chamberlain for being a "gentleman" at the very emotional Board of Appeals meeting last week.

"He's educated and articulate and for the most part pretty gentlemanlike," Monk said. Monk also said, however, he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.

"Chick-Fil-A is not a standard fast-food restaurant," he said, noting that it is closed Sundays and that the drive-through window is not open all night.

Chamberlain disagrees. Last weekend, while visiting his son in Florida, Chamberlain said he and his son walked through a Chick-Fil-A parking lot.

What most surprised him, Chamberlain said, was the playground.

"Like McDonald's, they have a little kiddies' play area that was enclosed, where they crawl around in pipes and play with balls," he said. He also noted the neon signs, which he described last week as "gaudy."

Chamberlain has never eaten at a Chick-Fil-A, he said, and never intends to -- partly in protest, and partly because he hates chicken.

"My wife makes chicken all the time, and it drives me nuts," he said. "I go to fast-food places, though, make no mistake about that."

Chamberlain said he and his wife picked their townhouse because the porch overlooks a storm-water management pond and a creek lined by trees. They knew, because of the wetlands, the land would not be developed.

During the day, the sounds of birds singing -- along with the distant hum of traffic -- come through the open sliding doors.

The Chamberlains know the traffic will not sound quite so distant if a Chick-Fil-A is built across the street from their complex.

"If I had had enough foresight," Chamberlain said, "I would have bought a 10-acre parcel and put a house in the middle of it."

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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