Carroll couple's rezoning request denied again

Commissioners return petition on Eldersburg land to Board of Zoning Appeals

March 21, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County commissioners bounced a contentious petition to rezone 4.5 acres in Eldersburg for business use back to the Board of Zoning Appeals yesterday.

The commissioners declined to change the residential use of the property -- which contains a four-story stone building -- and suggested that the owners outline a specific use on which the zoning panel could rule.

Irvin and Peggy Gordon can design a conditional use for their Strawbridge Terrace property and appeal it to the board or wait several months while the commissioners ponder changing regulations on mixed-use zoning.

The Gordons, both 72, said they have little time or patience for either option.

The planning commission said business zoning allowed too much latitude with nearly 100 possible uses, and five months ago turned down the Gordons' request.

The couple appealed to the county commissioners, who said yesterday they could find no legal reason to remove the residential zoning from the property. Officials stopped short of taking formal action and said they would deliberate further.

"It is more appropriate to go to the BZA with a specific conditional use," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. "We think your property is unique and worth doing something interesting with, but instead of rezoning, you should go to the BZA."

The couple purchased the property more than 30 years ago. They have tried several times to get zoning that would allow a commercial venture. They live in one of eight apartments in the 75-year-old building, which faces Liberty High School and adjoins a long-established subdivision whose residents oppose business in their midst.

Several residents attended the discussion, but were not invited to address the board. Many said yesterday the discussion was a waste of their time.

The county, concerned with increased traffic and noise, has rejected all previous proposals from the Gordons. The courts have upheld all the decisions.

Frazier told the couple that a zoning hearing would be "the quickest route" to a resolution.

"There is a strong presumption in the law that conditional uses should be granted," County Attorney Laurell Taylor added.

The couple have said they have no specific plans, but want the option of opening a business on the property. Neighbors fear business zoning would make the property more attractive to commercial developers. Within a year, vacant property near the Gordons' home is slated for about 130 houses.

"The BZA is your only choice right now, until we decide to change our business zone or create a mixed-use zone," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "The BZA has to rule on this. It's their job. We can't break the law."

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge urged the couple to try the Board of Zoning Appeals. Frazier said the board would need specific information as to proposed use.

The Gordons contend they are dealing with a zoning error. Their plans for the property rejected by the zoning board include a restaurant, swim club and croquet fields. They hesitate to go that route again.

"We are trying to correct a zoning error," said Peggy Gordon. "We are in limbo."

To win a rezoning, the Gordons had to prove a mistake in the original zoning or a change in the character of their neighborhood. They contended that the original zoning was erroneous, a claim they based on the commercial property taxes and water rates that they pay. They also said the neighborhood has several business ventures nearby, including Eldersburg Business Center and Freedom Swim Club. The Gordons have said they have no offers to purchase the property and no plans to raze the building.

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