Lowe's plan draws protest

Residents oppose use of YMCA land for new store

`It's too intense'

April 12, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Several weeks after introducing expansion plans that include selling some of its Ellicott City land for a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, the Howard County YMCA is seeing red - literally.

At community forums Tuesday night and last night, the YMCA and its allies in the expansion project were confronted by hundreds of local opponents, many of them clad in red to signal their objections to the plan. Residents have attacked the proposal, saying a Lowe's store will exacerbate traffic congestion on Montgomery Road (Route 103) and overwhelm an area dominated by the Long Gate Shopping Center.

"There's no way," Andrea Thomas, secretary of the Ellicott City Residents' Association, said of the plan. "It's too intense."

Under the proposal, developer J. Chris Pippen would combine 4 acres from the YMCA and 13 acres from nearby homeowners and Bethel Baptist Church to make room along Montgomery Road for a new Lowe's and its 680-space parking lot. The plans will require the approval of the county Zoning Board, which is made up of the five County Council members.

The YMCA will use profits from the land sale to help fund the construction of a $9 million facility on its remaining 8 acres, while the church will benefit from a traffic signal at its parking lot entrance.

Anxious to win support for the project, the YMCA has held five community forums during the past month. But this week's outburst of opposition is unlikely to slow the project, YMCA officials said yesterday.

"Thus far, we have all the intention of proceeding with the zoning application. We have not considered anything other than proceeding," said Mark Moxley, chairman of the Howard YMCA's board of directors. "Obviously, we're hearing from the vocal opponents. But the Zoning Board is the real barometer. It's really a matter of convincing the Zoning Board this is a worthy project.

"This is just a formality we're going through now," he added. "The zoning process is what we're working toward and shooting for."

The YMCA and Pippen argue that the project would lessen traffic congestion in the area by adding an extra lane and other improvements along Montgomery Road. In addition, a planned upgrade of the Route 100-U.S. 29 junction will reduce the number of commuters who use the road to avoid the highways, they said.

Neighbors scoff at such promises, referring to Lowe's predictions that the store will bring at least two dozen tractor-trailers up Montgomery Road each day, in addition to about 250 cars at rush hour. The YMCA and nearby homeowners should have the right to sell land to Pippen, residents said, but they prefer he would build something such as housing for senior citizens.

The argument over Montgomery Road's traffic troubles was underscored at Tuesday's meeting at the church, when a car pulling out of the church driveway was struck by an oncoming car, sending one person to the hospital with minor injuries and causing a lengthy delay for those leaving the meeting.

"We stopped the meeting and said a prayer," said Thomas, the residents association secretary. "There's proof in the pudding right there."

Opposition leaders said they are not surprised by the large turnout this week. Montgomery Road Citizens for Responsible Growth, a community group fighting the Lowe's store, has spent the past month drumming up support in 12 surrounding neighborhoods, organizer Wendy Moomaw said.

"It's been a big team effort," she said. "People went and pounded the pavement."

The high pitch of the opposition disappoints Pippen, who made an unsuccessful attempt three years ago to replace the six homes west of the YMCA with a small shopping center.

"I think people were not particularly interested in receiving information from us," he said yesterday. "The people who were there simply have decided that no development should occur on this side of Montgomery Road."

Peter L. Rotelli, Lowe's representative at the meetings, said he hopes that residents' concerns will be allayed at future meetings. "As far as I know, the project is still moving forward," he said. "[The opposition] hasn't damaged our resolve to keep moving forward."

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