Residents oppose plan for Elkridge site

Builder wants land near I-95 rezoned for business park

January 06, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Land near seven Howard County business parks might seem primed to become the location of an eighth, but Elkridge residents hope the Howard County Zoning Board draws a line -- specifically, at Interstate 95.

The existing business parks lie east of I-95 in the heavily commercial U.S. 1 corridor. The 25-acre tract a company wants to rezone from residential to light manufacturing is west of the interstate, a barrier residents think should not be crossed.

"There's no compelling reason to rezone that," said the Rev. Roland Howard, one of about a half-dozen residents who spoke against the proposal at a Planning Board hearing in October.

FOR THE RECORD - An article Sunday in the Maryland section about a 25-acre parcel in Elkridge that is being considered for rezoning misidentified Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Richard McIntire.
The Sun regrets the error.

On the other side of the argument is Kenfield LLC of Baltimore, which negotiated with about a half-dozen owners for land between I-95 and Route 103. Peter Bosworth, the company's managing member, said the land is unfit for homes because it was contaminated by illegal dumping. He said the tract was part of a 50-acre Superfund site and the Environmental Protection Agency removed some of the toxins at least a decade ago.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has issued a "no further requirements" notice for the site if it is used for commercial or industrial development, but additional cleanup would be necessary before the agency would consider permitting residential development there, said Kenfield spokesman Richard McIntire.

"We and other people in the area -- other property owners in the area -- would like to be able to do something with [our] land," said Bosworth, who also believes noise from the highway would be a problem if homes were built there.

The Zoning Board is expected to hear the debate next month. The case will be the first for Howard's new zoning counsel, an attorney hired recently to offer an opinion to the board on whether parcels meet the criteria for rezoning.

Kenfield is hoping to build a complex of five one-story buildings, to be called the Meadows Corporate Park, on the 25-acre tract. The company would construct about 150,000 square feet of space for offices and "flex space." Plans also call for nearly 500 parking spots.

The Zoning Board took a similar case last year. That decision offers mixed signals about how it might act this time.

A landowner and developer wanted to rezone two parcels at Routes 100 and 103 in Elkridge for commercial use, arguing that highway noise made the lots unfit for housing. Opponents living nearby testified that their residential property values had increased since Route 100 opened.

In June, the board rezoned one of the parcels -- the one it expected would have direct access to Route 103 -- but declined to change the other one, which connects to a road that serves only homes.

Howard, who opposes the new rezoning request at Route 103 and I-95, is not complaining about the possibility of increased traffic. He said he is trying to preserve the character of the neighborhood, which is mostly residential.

Howard lives east of I-95, but his family has owned a parcel on the west side since 1898. He said he did not protest when Zoning Board members rezoned to manufacturing the area around his home -- now surrounded by warehouses -- because they said the west side would remain residential. He figured he could always build a house on his family's ancestral land and move.

Now the 75-year-old resident fears his way out is being closed off. His land on the west side, a parcel listed in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties for its connection to the Underground Railroad and local African-American history, would no longer be a refuge if it too loses its residential setting, he said. His property is next to the 25-acre tract up for rezoning.

"I don't want to live in an M-1," Howard said, referring to the zoning designation for light manufacturing.

County Department of Planning and Zoning staff members recommended against rezoning the parcel, noting in a written report that the neighborhood is predominantly residential. They called the argument that residential development would not be appropriate so close to I-95 "unfounded" because homes can be found next to major roads throughout the area, and they said Kenfield had not offered proof that the land is contaminated.

"The Petitioner implies that the cleanup program completed in the early 1990s may possibly have been ineffective or incomplete, but has not submitted evidence of that," the planners wrote.

Rezoning the land would probably create a domino effect, persuading owners of nearby parcels to ask for the same treatment, planners added.

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