Tower plan stirs fight

Protesters trying to block developer from building offices

100 gather at meeting

Residential uses for intersection called into question

March 22, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Close to 100 residents turned out last night to protest a rezoning request that would allow for new office tower construction at the junction of Route 100 and Route 103.

The request before the Zoning Board applies to two residentially zoned parcels owned by Dr. Ahsan Kahn - a 17-acre parcel at the northeastern corner of the juncture and a 4-acre parcel at the southeastern corner.

At last night's hearing, developer Donald R. Reuwer, who is working with Kahn, argued that the opening of Route 100 three years ago has made the parcels unfit for housing, but ideal for office development.

"This area represents an outstanding opportunity for Howard County to capture more office development," Reuwer said. "The noise and other things associated with Route 100 dictate that it is best not to develop this in a residential manner."

Those living near the junction disagree, arguing that the area is dominated by housing, much of it just as close to Route 100 as the Kahn parcels are. Building office towers on the parcels would only exacerbate rush-hour congestion around Route 103 (Meadowridge Road), they argue.

Late last night, opponents had not yet had a chance to state their case before the board, which is made up of County Council members. The hearing will be continued March 28 at 7:30 p.m.

The outcome of the Kahn application, many believe, could help determine the direction of the Route 100 corridor, which is now tenuously balanced between commercial and residential uses. In particular, officials predict that the Kahn case could affect the use of open parcels at the intersection's other two corners, which are also zoned for residential use.

The application has provoked disagreement among public officials: The Department of Planning and Zoning was in favor of the rezoning, but the Planning Board, an advisory panel, voted against it, noting the "predominantly residential" character of the surroundings.

And the State Highway Administration wrote a strongly worded letter against the proposed change, saying office towers could further complicate the busy Routes 100/103 juncture.

The rezoning request has caused dissension among neighbors of the northern parcel.

The leadership of the homeowners association at the Lynwood subdivision recently signed an agreement backing Kahn and Reuwer, on the condition that they build housing for senior citizens as a buffer between the subdivision and the office tower slated for the parcel.

The housing complex would contain about 85 units and would be reached by a private, gated drive off Route 103.

But many Lynwood residents remain opposed to the rezoning, and angry at their neighborhood leaders for compromising.

"Eighty percent of our people are against it, but our [leaders] keep negotiating with [Kahn]," said Lynwood resident Richard Williams. "I don't understand why they're like that when the majority of people are against it."

Reuwer and Kahn are seeking to sign a similar agreement with neighbors of the southern parcel, limiting development there to housing for the elderly.

But residents have declined it, noting instead that Kahn's willingness to settle for a senior-citizen complex is proof that housing is doable so close to Route 100.

Not necessarily, Reuwer countered.

The senior-citizen housing, if built, would be in the form of "garden units" with enclosed balconies instead of back yards - and therefore less vulnerable to highway noise.

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