County halts shopping center plan for growth

Offical says proposal would eliminate parking and create need for more

January 18, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's zoning commissioner has ruled against a plan to add as many as six new businesses to Towson's Ravenwood Shopping Center because of the parking headaches such an expansion would create.

Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt denied a variance for the plan Friday, saying the plan for new businesses at the popular Ravenwood at "Four Corners" -- the busy intersection of Loch Raven Boulevard and Taylor Avenue -- would eliminate existing parking spaces while creating a need for more.

The ruling is a victory for the Loch Raven Community Council and the Loch Raven Business Association, which formed a coalition of merchants and residents against the expansion and argued it would have created overcrowding at the 7-acre site.

"I'm just pleased," said Donna Spicer, director of the community council. "The focus on revitalization is not just development but assuring quality to the immediate businesses and surrounding communities. We want to help redevelopment come in. It just has to be beneficial."

The center's owner, Saul Centers Inc., had applied for a zoning variance to provide a total of 495 parking spaces after the 7,500-square foot expansion, as opposed to the 535 spaces mandated by a county zoning formula.

Schmidt cited Ravenwood's steep entrance off Taylor Avenue, which he referred to as a "ski slope," as a major hurdle to expansion. He also speculated that a high number of elderly shoppers who use the Ravenwood Giant food store could be adversely affected by the decreased parking space.

"Testimony and evidence presented was that this slope makes it difficult for individuals who park in spaces far away from the stores to walk up the grade," he wrote in a 16-page opinion. "Moreover, shopping carts from the Giant can be difficult to manage due to the incline."

Mark Evans, a Saul Centers vice president who manages Ravenwood, could not be reached for comment Friday. David K. Gildea, an attorney for Saul Centers, was unavailable for comment.

The community is in the midst of a revitalization project along Loch Raven Boulevard from Interstate 695 to the commercial Ravenwood intersection. Plans include installing brick median strips, trees, banners and new signs -- and a possible unification of the four shopping centers at Loch Raven and Taylor, with walkways and a common name, such as Loch Raven Crossroads.

The area once was once farmland, but a demand for housing after World War II transformed the rural community into a bustling suburb as thousands of families moved into brick rowhouses.

Merchants said Schmidt's ruling would complement the efforts to rejuvenate the area.

"People shop here because they can park close to the stores," said Neil Smith, owner of the Crack Pot seafood restaurant, a 26-year-old establishment in the center. "It's a victory for them and for the neighborhood associations. I think it's good for the tenants and it's good for the customers."

Pub Date: 1/18/99

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