Gas station is pushed despite objections

Engineer tells panel project won't harm U.S. 1 revitalization


April 25, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Proponents of a new gas station on U.S. 1 brushed aside last night county officials' concerns that the proposal would undermine efforts to revitalize a boulevard already lined with service stations.

Robert Vogel, a project engineer working for developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr., told the Board of Appeals it would be wrong to deny approval to the proposed gas station because the county was planning to upgrade U.S. 1.

The revitalization push is in its early stages, with no guidelines in place, Vogel said.

"I'm very much aware of the county's initiative for the revitalization of Route 1, but to the best of my knowledge there are no Route 1 criteria in place at this time," the engineer said.

The station would sit on a 2.5-acre vacant lot north of the U.S. 1 and Route 100 interchange and include a fast-food restaurant with a drive-through lane.

The proposal has drawn closer scrutiny than most gas station applications because of the county's concerted effort to overhaul its 10-mile stretch of U.S. 1.

A task force of 26 community and business leaders has spent six months studying how to improve the corridor, which has an unvarnished look that contrasts with the rest of the affluent county.

In making initial recommendations against Reuwer's proposal last year, Joseph W. Rutter Jr., county planning and zoning director, and the Planning Board had argued that adding another service station to the corridor was at odds with revitalization.

Owners of gas stations along the boulevard agreed, saying they are operating below capacity because of a glut of stations.

Fifteen gas stations are situated along a seven-mile stretch of U.S. 1 from Route 32 to the Baltimore County line, including two just south of the U.S. 1-Route 100 interchange.

Responding to these concerns, Reuwer revised his plans in February, adding design covenants that he said would set the "automobile public convenience center," as he calls the project, apart from the other gas stations.

The covenants, similar to those used in Columbia, would be enforced by an "architectural committee" and include rules requiring peaked roofs on the main building and canopies, recessed light fixtures outside, and sign letters no larger than 12 inches.

His proposed station, Reuwer said in his revised application, would "make a significant and pleasing contribution to the Route 1 revitalization effort and the whole community by ensuring a harmonious relationship with other buildings and sites" in the area.

By late last night, the Board of Appeals had not voted on the revised plan.

Last month, that plan won over the Planning Board, which voted 3-2 in its favor.

However, it did not persuade Rutter, who again recommended against the proposal, saying that the only real revision it included was moving the location of the drive-through window.

The proposed station "fundamentally remains as not being in harmony with the General Plan ... and highly contrary to the long-established General Plan policy to not extend strip-commercial development on major roads," Rutter wrote.

Vogel disagreed last night, saying that the proposed station could not be considered "strip development" because of its high aesthetic standards.

"The covenants that were introduced make this completely different from what's out there today," he said. "I'm not going to predict what [U.S. 1 criteria] the county will come up with, but this is a step in the right direction."

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