Residents expecting to turn the tables

Community groups plan to buy out land slated for retail strip

July 18, 1999|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Taking a tactic from the playbook of developers, a few Ellicott City neighborhood groups have started an effort to buy a 2-acre parcel of land next to Hollifield Station Elementary School to prevent it from being converted into a retail strip.

As many as five community associations have begun preliminary talks about raising $250,000 to buy the property at the northeast corner of Patapsco Valley Drive and Rogers Avenue.

The unusual strategy comes during a lull in a protracted battle over the land, which the Ryland Group wants to sell as a site for a small shopping center.

Debbie Fieldhouse, president of the Mount Hebron/Orchards Community Association, which is spearheading the initiative, said the groups must work quickly before a developer tries to purchase the property.

The Ryland Group said it would continue to market the parcel to developers, but would entertain any offer from the neighborhood groups.

"We're more than happy to sit down and discuss it with them," said Jim Joyce, Ryland's Baltimore division president.

The property is part of the Daniels Mill Overlook subdivision, a 290-unit community being built on 160.7 acres by Ryland.

Although Joyce said the real estate giant made it clear from April 1997 that it would ask the county to rezone the site from a residential to a commercial center district, some homeowners in Daniels Mill and surrounding neighborhoods said they didn't learn about the proposed retail strip until this past spring.

When MAMAR LLC tentatively agreed with Ryland to build a shopping center and sought public input, the protests were immediate and forceful.

"People were very upset, very vocal and very angry," homeowner Kathy Jacobus said of an April meeting with Daniels Mill residents. "It was a nasty meeting."

MAMAR received similar responses from five residential communities near the school. Many homeowners say they fear the retail strip would attract strangers, congest busy Rogers Avenue, and conflict with the residential character of the neighborhood along Rogers.

During a community meeting last week, members of the Mount Hebron group peppered County Executive James N. Robey with questions about whether he could stop the proposal.

"It's not appropriate for a county executive to interject himself into the project," Robey said later.

Although Joyce dismissed concerns about the traffic and argued that the shopping center would be convenient to residents, he conceded that the opposition killed his company's deal with MAMAR, which pulled out of the project.

"There were people going off the emotional Richter scale," Joyce recalled. "People were saying that there would be pedophiles in the neighborhood."

Community leaders, hoping to avoid another confrontation, say they would like to buy the land and preserve it as open space. Fieldhouse said her organization has circulated a newsletter among its 900 households seeking a $100 donation from each family.

If all of the homes, numbering more than 400, from five other neighborhood groups do the same, the communities would be past their goal's halfway point.

Mount Hebron resident Laura Weibking called the idea "fabulous."

"Having open land would be great," she said.

Other homeowners were not as enthusiastic.

"I think putting the burden on neighboring community associations is difficult," said Kelly Farquharson, who lives in the Wilton Acres community. "To me, that seems a bit unrealistic."

Sharon Mayr, secretary of the Chestnut Hills Estates Community Association, added, "I don't know how successful they would be to get individual contributions."

Joyce said he applauds the fledgling effort, but added that his company will continue to search for a potential developer.

Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 7/18/99

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