Child-care center plan left in limbo

With member absent, board's tie vote delays deliberations

Discussions resume May 31

Residents express concerns about traffic, safety of children

May 16, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

After sitting through 13 months of hearings, the Board of Appeals deadlocked last night on a proposal to build one of the county's largest child-care centers in a residential Ellicott City neighborhood.

Robert C. Sharps, chairman of the five-member county board, was absent. The panel will deliberate again May 31 after he listens to a tape of last night's hearing.

Residents, who have battled the plans for a year and a half, were frustrated by the delay. About 50 turned out for the hearing.

"This thing is eternally going on," said Rebecca Maltz, who lives in Hollifield Station.

Security Development LLC in Ellicott City asked for a special exception to build a center for up to 200 children at the northwest corner of Old Frederick Road and Rogers Avenue.

The real estate development company proposes to lease the building to Florida-based Tutor Time Learning Systems Inc.

Staff members at the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning said the company's plans meet the county's criteria, but the Planning Board voted in 1999 to recommend rejection of the center.

Residents have testified that the center would be out of place in their neighborhood and could endanger children who walk to nearby Hollifield Station Elementary School.

They said computer-aided simulations that they compiled after surveying three other child-care centers showed many instances when Tutor Time's proposed 31-space parking lot would overflow.

Resident Kathleen Jacobus said at a hearing in February that only two other day care centers in Howard are on local roads in residential zones. One serves 75 children, and the other has space for 50, she said.

"I really do feel that it was never the intention of these regulations to allow a large commercial facility in a residential neighborhood," Jacobus said.

Andrea Kornblau, a Tutor Time district manager, testified last year that the proposed center's size is average for the company. Most of the Tutor Time centers in the United States are in residential areas, she said.

Kornblau said she has visited about half of the company's centers and has not noticed traffic congestion.

Security Development's attorney, Thomas Meachum, reminded board members that county zoning regulations permit child-care centers in residential areas and do limit their size.

The neighborhood's roads accommodate traffic from Hollifield Station Elementary School, he said.`There's no reason to believe that the road system wouldn't be able to handle the child-care center also. ... The essence of the [opponents'] argument is they don't believe child-care centers belong in a development."

Board member Bill Waff, who voted to deny the proposal, said residents presented "the preponderance of evidence."

"I agree with their arguments about traffic," he said.

Jacqueline R. Scott, who also voted against the plans, expressed concern about the building's size and the intensity with which it would be used.

"It's too much," she said.

Board member Pat Patterson said the size of the proposed center worried him but that Security Development met the county's requirements.

He and James W. Pfefferkorn, the board's vice chairman, voted for approval.

"We are not a legislative body, and we cannot hold the petitioner to higher standards than were set by the county," Pfefferkorn said.

Rob Moxley, a Security Development principal, appeared to be unperturbed. "The board is giving it very careful consideration," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Residents, weary of the fight, were wondering what to do if the remaining board member votes for the child-care center.

An appeal would be expensive, they said.

"How do we pay for that?" asked Hollifield Station resident Vicki Imre.

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