Chick-Fil-A drops request after board deadlocks on zoning Condo residents' victory might not be permanent

company could reapply

October 27, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Chick-Fil-A Inc. announced yesterday that it has withdrawn its application to build a hotly contested drive-through restaurant near a residential area in Ellicott City, leaving critics to celebrate what may be only a short-term victory.

"Hallelujah," said Kenneth Chamberlain, president of Ellicott Park Townhouse Condominium Section Two Association Inc., a group of 56 townhouse owners on Lee Farm Court near the proposed restaurant. "Miracles do happen."

Chamberlain had argued two weeks ago before the Howard County Zoning Board of Appeals that the drive-through restaurant would create traffic problems and lower property values in his neighborhood.

But the company could re-submit a plan any time it wants to, said Tom Carbo, legal adviser to the Board of Appeals. The board deadlocked Thursday, 2 to 2, over whether to allow a special exception for the restaurant.

By law, Carbo said, the company could not submit a plan for two years after a denial, but Thursday's tie vote was not a denial.

Joe Dinoto, the probable owner and operator of the proposed Chick-Fil-A, would not comment on whether the company intends to submit revised plans. Spokesmen at Chick-Fil-A headquarters in Atlanta could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Dinoto, who is owner-operator of the Chick-Fil-A in The Mall in Columbia, said he was stunned by the negative reaction to his restaurant plans at the Board of Appeals meeting two weeks ago.

"That area [was] zoned a business park years before they ever built the condominiums," he said. "Chick-Fil-A would bend over backward to work with the community and everything."

He said residents have complained to him that their property values are falling because of the proposed restaurant, but he refuses to take the blame for that.

"That has nothing to do with a Chick-Fil-A going in there," he said.

The board deadlocked because the fifth member of the board, George L. Layman, a Democrat who resigned in June to run for the County Council, was not present. However, he said last week that he still was legally a member of the board and had agreed to fill in if needed to break a tie.

Layman's Republican opponent for the council seat in District 1, Christopher J. Merdon, has criticized Layman for not finishing his term on the board while running for office.

"He really does have an obligation to fill out his duties," Merdon said yesterday. " It came down to a 2-2 vote, and, obviously, George wasn't there. And I got a call from the residents there who were very upset saying that that was an important case for them and for Mr. Layman not to show up was basically irresponsible."

But Layman said yesterday that it would have been irresponsible for him to stay on the board. He said he did so when he ran for County Council in 1994 and realized it was a mistake when people began questioning his every vote, accusing him of political maneuvering.

"It got a little testy," he said. "I thought it would be better to resign than have the board's credibility brought up.

"It was only because of the current council's lack of determination to find someone to replace me that I've been put in this position," Layman said. "I didn't put myself in this position. I resigned six months ago."

Chamberlain said he, for one, supports Layman and thinks he made the right decision. He said he plans to vote for Layman Nov. 3.

"And I'm not even a Democrat," he added.

Chamberlain said he would not be surprised if Chick-Fil-A re-submits plans for a restaurant off Executive Park Drive, but he added that he and his neighbors would be better prepared the next time.

Just two weeks ago, Chamberlain was pessimistic that his efforts would come to anything.

Now, thanks to his temporary victory, he's ready to keep fighting.

"It renews my faith in the system, that's for sure," he said.

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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