The county Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously yesterday against construction of a fuel tank at Sweetheart Cup's Hampstead distribution center because of the threat it would pose to ground water.
Cowan Trucking of Halethorpe had asked for a conditional use to build a 12,000-gallon, above-ground diesel tank at Sweetheart's new 1 million-square-foot warehouse along Route 30. Cowan also requested permission to place the tank closer to nearby homes than county zoning laws allow.
"As I look at this situation, I don't think there's a legitimate requirement for a fuel station at this location at all," said board member Howard B. Kramer, noting the company's testimony that five to eight trucks would refuel there each day. "Further, if there becomes a requirement, this location is all wrong ... for safety reasons."
Reid V. Eikner, vice president and general counsel for Cowan, said he was not sure what action, if any, the company would take. Cowan could appeal the board's decision to Carroll County Circuit Court or install an underground fuel tank, which is allowed under zoning laws.
"We have no plans at this point," said Eikner, noting the company had considered an underground fuel tank and rejected that idea for environmental reasons. "We'll have to re-look at the whole situation."
Neighbors of Sweetheart Cup urged Eikner and Joseph Cowan, owner of the trucking company, to consider other alternatives, including construction of a fueling station in another location or leasing an abandoned gas station near Sweetheart Cup.
"We ... are completely opposed to placement of a diesel fuel tank of any type to be located across the road from our homes," said Lisa Brezler, reading a letter signed by 74 neighboring residents, most of them Houcksville Road homeowners. "Our homes represent our lifetime investments, and we have already sacrificed much."
Residents said they are coping with truck noise and fumes, and a parking lot so brightly lighted that many neighbors complained they could read the newspaper on their front porches at midnight. A fueling depot, they said, would be one too many amenities for their new neighbor, one of the largest warehouses in Maryland.
"We've already sacrificed our property values, peace of mind and country lifestyle," said Lynn Supp, who lives across from the distribution center. "Must we also sacrifice our health?"
Hampstead Town Manager Kenneth Decker and about a dozen residents took time off from work to attend the afternoon hearing, which lasted nearly three hours. Many of them, including Supp, voiced concern about possible contamination of the ground water from oil spills and leaks. Residents of Houcksville Road, directly across from the site that was proposed for the fueling station, rely on private wells.
"With fuel prices being what they are today, I can understand why [Cowan] wants a fuel tank on the property, but ... I feel the [residents] there have already had a little bit of a load to deal with, and `little' may be an understatement," said board member Ronald Hoff. "If something were to happen here ... if, God forbid, there were a spill ... the fastest feet in the world could not stop it from getting ... into the storm drain running off the property."
Plans for the fuel tank showed the depot at the top of a 52-foot slope, about 225 feet from the homes on Houcksville Road. Carroll zoning regulations require that homes be nearly three times that distance - 600 feet - from a fueling operation.
Cowan unsuccessfully argued that the fueling operation could cut congestion on area roads.
With a fuel tank on the site, truckers would not search for fuel, he said.
The proposed double-walled fuel tank would have been equipped with safety devices, including quick-disconnect hoses, an internal device to monitor the amount of fuel in the tank and an overfill alarm to safeguard against leaks, said Vance Galloway, vice president of Petrol Services, the company that would have installed the tank.