Western Howard fuming over gas station plans

Opponents fear sprawl will blot rural area

April 19, 1999|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Finding a gas station in western Howard County has taken on the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack quality, and area homeowners are content with that.

About 200 opponents jammed a Board of Appeals hearing last month on a proposed Freestate gas station in Glenwood, and several dozen showed up last week at follow-up meetings.

Some Marriottsville residents were so incensed by an Exxon proposal to build a gas station, convenience store and car wash next to the historic Waverly mansion that they exchanged heated words with the chairman of the county Planning Board.

"All of this is to attract high-volume traffic off [Interstate] 70," said Fred Hildebrand, a Glenwood Springs resident and leading opponent of the Freestate project. "I haven't talked to anybody who wants a gas station here."

Opponents see gas stations as the latest examples of sprawl.

"It's the flavor of the month, clearly" said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

The issue of gas stations moved to the forefront when both proposals appeared almost simultaneously on the docket of the Board of Appeals.

The board convened its first public hearing on the Freestate plan April 6 and will hold another Thursday. The project received the endorsement of the Planning Board on Feb. 11.

The Exxon proposal, which received a negative recommendation from the Planning Board on March 24, goes before the Board of Appeals tomorrow. Both cases pose this quandary: When should preservation of the pastoral west give way to commercial demands?

Western Howard, designated as a limited development area by planning officials, has seen its population grow from 30,611 in April 1990 to 38,691 in December 1998.

As more homeowners in the eastern part of the county move west, so do businesses -- such as grocery stores, restaurants, and medical offices.

"It's Economics 101," Rutter said. "If there were 27 farmers out there like there were 50 years ago, they wouldn't warrant gas stations."

In response to growth in the area, the county agreed to build a library, community center and firehouse adjacent to the proposed Freestate site.

The county project was part of a study paid for by Freestate, which wants to build a 10-pump station at the northwest corner of Route 97 and Carrs Mill Road.

The study indicated a need in the area for more gasoline -- 1.9 million gallons more -- than the Citgo in Glenwood sells.

Exxon, which has proposed a 12-pump gas station on Marriottsville Road, has concluded that there is an unmet demand of $3.2 million in gasoline sales in the Marriottsville area.

David A. Carney, an attorney representing the developers in both cases, said the market studies prove there is a need for the gas stations.

"The oil companies know where they need to be, and they know that they need to be where the residents are," Carney said. "The oil companies wouldn't be applying out there if the people weren't out there."

Although opponents in Glenwood and Marriottsville have grudgingly acknowledged the need, they say they are perfectly happy going elsewhere to gas up their vehicles.

Benjamin A. Walker, who has lived in Marriottsville for 59 years, said residents have nine gas stations to choose from on nearby U.S. 40.

"Being in a rural area, we know that we have to drive somewhere else to do our shopping and get our gas," said Walker, who lives less than a half-mile from the proposed Exxon site. "Route 40 has everything we need."

In Glenwood, residents have a six-pump Citgo on Route 97, Hildebrand said.

"You can get gas anywhere you go," he said. "I don't want to see gas stations lined up along 97. There's no point."

Added Jenny Landis, whose McKendree Estates community is directly across from the Freestate site: "The lighting is different, the hours are different, everything is different from what's out there now. It's a whole different ballgame."

L. Scott Muller of Marriottsville echoed the sentiments of many western Howard County homeowners in saying that he is willing to endure the lack of retail and convenience services.

"It's a choice of lifestyle," Muller said. "We chose the rural life, so we don't get those services."

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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