Zoning board OKs mall plans

Eldersburg project raises fears of noise, traffic congestion

36-acre center

Developer says he'll invest $1 million in road upgrades

April 26, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Traffic congestion in Eldersburg, where motorists often must wait through three lights to cross the intersection of Routes 26 and 32, might become worse next summer when a $30 million shopping mecca opens in Carroll County's most populous area.

Eldersburg Marketplace, a proposed 36-acre retail center that has pitted developers against homeowners, won approval yesterday from the county Board of Zoning Appeals.

During more than four hours of testimony, a handful of residents and the owner of a South Carroll hardware store opposed the development, planned for Route 32 and Londontown Boulevard. They expressed concerns about traffic, safety and aesthetics.

"I'm very concerned about the impact this shopping center is going to have," said Eric Doherty, who lives near the site. "It's going to generate a lot of noise, not to mention the traffic."

Traffic studies show the marketplace would generate about 15,000 trips daily. Developer Dixon Harvey, owner of Black Oak Associates, said he is committed to about $1 million in road improvements, particularly at three intersections: Routes 26 and 32, South Carroll's main intersection; Route 26 and Georgetown Boulevard; and Route 32 and Londontown Boulevard, which will be the entrance to Eldersburg Marketplace.

"The improvements the developer plans to make would make those intersections operate better than they do today," said Wes Guckert, a traffic expert who testified on Harvey's behalf.

Several residents disputed Guckert's findings.

"If they're so sure this development won't affect other intersections, let them back it up. Make them set aside money for added road improvements, in case they're needed," said Donna Slack, whose back yard overlooks the property.

The improvements at Routes 32 and 26, including new left-turn lanes, would leave no room for future expansion of the intersection. Left alone, the intersection is expected to fail in four to five years, depending on the pace of development.

At the hearing yesterday, residents also mentioned South Carroll's chronic water shortages. The county's most populous area with 28,000 residents, South Carroll has suffered through water-use restrictions the past three summers. Without expanded sources of water, this year could bring more of the same, officials said. Residents said the Eldersburg mall would strain resources that are inadequate.

To address residents' concerns about traffic, the zoning appeals board demanded that Harvey complete all roadwork before the mall opens. The board also prohibited outside storage and sales, and banned 24-hour operations at the site.

"The restrictions could have a detrimental effect on our leasing plans, but we're moving forward," Harvey said. The prospective tenants are Home Depot and Kohl's, a discount chain, although neither company has applied for building permits.

Eldersburg Marketplace is the second retail complex proposed for the site. Two years ago, a different developer won zoning approval for The Promenade at Eldersburg, a glitzy center that would feature a movie complex, upscale anchor stores and trendy restaurants.

The theater chain backed out, and the prospect of well-known department stores faded. Instead of the avenue concept, where shoppers walk landscaped paths to stores, Eldersburg Marketplace will feature a traditional design, with stores fronting a parking lot. The plans approved yesterday show four large retail stores.

Until July, Harvey owned nearby Carrolltown Center, the county's oldest indoor shopping mall. Two years ago, he opposed The Promenade on behalf of his mall tenants. He said he feels the center he is proposing will complement Carrolltown Center. Board Chairman Karl V. Reichlin said the hearing was a first step.

The project must win the approval of local and state review agencies -- such as the county's development review bureau and the Maryland Department of the Environment -- before it can be sent to the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission for consideration.

The commission will make the final recommendation on the project.

A public hearing of the review agencies is scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow in Room 003 of the Carroll County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

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