Zone cases bog down

Officials wrestle with Reuwer plans, delay latest request

Rt. 99 hearing postponed

Developer to use added time to meet skeptical residents

April 30, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

While the county Zoning Board is busy weighing a contested rezoning proposal by developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. in eastern Howard County, another Reuwer rezoning request for the western county is waiting in the wings.

The board, which is made up of the five County Council members, is so busy with Reuwer's plan to rezone two Route 100 parcels for commercial use that it has postponed until June 6 a hearing on his request for the junction of Marriottsville Road and Route 99.

As far as Reuwer is concerned, that is not necessarily a bad thing. It has given him more time to try to win over neighbors to support his plan to build a three-story office building on the western lot.

"I'm trying to meet with community groups ahead of time," Reuwer said last week. By June 6, "I hope to have entered into agreement with one or more of the groups that border" the parcel.

It remains to be seen how successful Reuwer's overtures will be. The densely wooded 2.4-acre parcel at the southwestern corner of Marriottsville Road and Route 99 (Old Frederick Road) has been under debate since it was included in a package of six lots in and around Waverly Woods that Reuwer sought to rezone two years ago.

Last year, residents made a deal with Reuwer to support the rezoning of four sites within Waverly Woods, a 680-acre mixed-use community, if he would drop his request for the other two sites, including the 2.4-acre one. But the deal was contingent on the Zoning Board's approval of the four sites, and the board approved only one.

As a result, Reuwer is back with his request for the 2.4-acre site, and many residents once again are lined up against him. The lot may be small, they argue, but rezoning it for an office building will encourage further commercial development along Route 99, which is dominated by older homes and small farms.

"If it's granted, there will be a domino effect all along Route 99," said neighbor Ellen Rhudy. "This area should remain residential and semi-rural."

Reuwer makes the same argument that he has offered for the rezoning of the Route 100 parcels: Heavy traffic makes the 2.4-acre lot undesirable for residential use, he says. He argues that the area, which is served by public sewer and water, has lost much of the rural character it had at the time of the county's last comprehensive rezoning in 1992.

"It doesn't make sense" for residential use, he said last week. "The way we looked at it, it could either be three rather dinky houses or something nice."

John Wisor of Glenwood agreed with part of Reuwer's argument, but said it was irrelevant.

"Personally, I wouldn't want to live on that corner, but I don't think that's the issue," Wisor said. "The issue is moving commercial suburbia westward, and the more he can move that line, the more money he can make."

When Reuwer first sought to rezone the lot, residents feared he was considering it for a gas station that could serve the busy crossroads. But Reuwer now has something different in mind: a 16,000- square-foot office building designed to look like a "Colonial mansion," complete with chimneys and a porte-cochere at the front.

Neighbors worry that an office building or other commercial development on the lot would further complicate the intersection. They note that the lot slopes down 8 feet from the roadside into a rim of wetlands and is near the headwaters of the Little Patuxent River.

Tim Wade of Woodlands Grant said Reuwer recently met with his homeowners association.

Wade said he was bothered by what he saw as Reuwer's implication that the rezoning was likely to be approved and that if neighbors didn't support his plan for an office building, he would build something less desirable. Considering that the Zoning Board last year approved only one of Reuwer's rezoning requests for the area, Wade said, neighbors shouldn't necessarily roll over on this one.

"He's making it sound like a done deal, but it certainly doesn't seem like a done deal now," he said.

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