Shopping rift lands in court

Two boards disagree on Promenade planned for Eldersburg site

Review will take 45 days

Opponents say center would worsen traffic, home values would fall

January 12, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The dispute between two county boards over whether Eldersburg should get a $32 million shopping center landed in Circuit Court yesterday.

Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. will take about 45 days to review six days of testimony before the Board of Zoning Appeals and copious notes on the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission's rationale for opposing the project.

He heard one final round of arguments yesterday on the Promenade, nearly 360,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space proposed for 36 acres at Londontown Boulevard and Route 32.

Opponents said traffic would be unbearable and home values would dwindle. Supporters said Carroll has to capture its own retail market. Eldersburg, with 28,000 residents the most populous area in the county, spends about $133 million annually, but less than $50 million locally.

The developer has promised an upscale shopping complex, with nationally known anchors and restaurant chains, but has not made public its tenants.

"Cranberry Mall was supposed to have a Hutzler's or a Hecht's," said Beck. "We could end up with a [discount store], when we would rather have a Saks."

Until the land is made available, the developer will not be able to get commitments from tenants, said William B. Dulany, attorney for the developer.

The project is at a standstill, until what Beck called "an internecine dispute" is re- solved.

In April, the three-member appeals board granted a conditional use that would allow construction of the project, proposed by a Pikesville investment group.

The planning commission, concerned with traffic and the shopping center's impact on the neighborhood, voted unanimously two months later to take the appeals board to court, an action it has pursued more than a dozen times in the past two years with little success.

"The planning commission determined the site was already congested and was not intended for retail services," said Timothy Burke, county attorney.

The developer's market study was flawed because it did not canvass residents about whether they wanted or would use the center, Burke said.

"The problem with this project is that it is in the wrong place," said Michelle Ostrander, attorney for several residents who live near the property. "There are many other locations where it would have a less dramatic effect on surrounding properties."

Zoned for industrial use, the site has been vacant for nearly three decades and is surrounded by commercial ventures. The property is likely to remain vacant if the county does not convert it to commercial use, supporters say.

During the appeals hearing in the spring, opponents argued against increased traffic and noted Carroll's lack of industrially zoned properties that would draw major employers. The industrial and commercial tax base account for 12 percent of the county's tax revenues, the lowest percentage in the metropolitan region.

Traffic generated the most opposition. The Promenade would add 15,000 trips a day through the most congested area in the county, traffic consultants said.

Less than a quarter-mile from the center, the intersection of Routes 26 and 32 is one of the most dangerous and delayed in the county. It is expected to receive a State Highway Administration failure rating within three years, even with $800,000 worth of improvements the developer has promised.

"In the big scheme of things, $800,000 does not go far," said Beck.

The center will have an adverse impact on every other intersection in Eldersburg, Ostrander said.

"In the world of road construction, $800,000 is no money at all," she said. "The BZA looked at that offer and was penny-wise but dollar foolish."

If Beck rules in favor of the developer, the project would go to the planning commission, which rejected it. The panel's members have asked that the county be prepared to fund the suit through an appeal to Maryland's highest court if necessary.

"The internecine warfare seen out of the County Office Building is distressing," said Beck.

Burke said he hoped the Promenade is one of the last such suits.

Pub Date: 1/12/99

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