Zoning change sought, fought

Contamination makes 25-acre parcel unfit for homes, board told

Foes shun business park


March 07, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Elkridge landowners who say their collection of properties is unfit for houses because of contamination and excessive noise asked the Howard County Zoning Board last night to let them build a business park instead.

Kenfield LLC of Baltimore, which is working with about a half-dozen owners to bring together 25 acres on the west side of Interstate 95 at Route 103, has visions of transforming the site into the Meadows Corporate Park. The company wants to construct about 160,000 square feet of office and industrial space, along with nearly 500 parking spots.

The land is a stroll away from seven business parks. But those complexes are east of the highway, while the neighborhood to the west is mostly residential -- and many people who live there want to keep it that way.

About 40 residents who are opposed to the rezoning request waited in the audience for their turn to testify, which was not expected to come until at least the next Zoning Board meeting.

David A. Carney, attorney for Kenfield LLC, told the board last night that in 1983 environmental agencies had received a tip that toxic materials had been dumped at the site. Cleanup efforts did not remove all of the contaminants, he said.

The Maryland Department of the Environment will not require more work on the site if the land is used for commercial or industrial development, department spokesman Richard J. McIntire confirmed before the meeting. But additional cleanup would be necessary before the agency would consider permitting residential development there, he said.

"What we're doing is trying to find a suitable development that could work under safe rules for hazardous and contaminated properties, and MDE has told us that residential [development] would not be suitable, based on the contaminants in the soil," Peter Bosworth, managing member of Kenfield LLC, said before the meeting.

If homes were built anyway, a noise expert testified, the din from I-95's eight lanes would pose an additional problem for residents.

A problem of noise

Michael Staiano, an engineer who works in noise control, said county criteria specifies that noise on a residential parcel should not exceed 65 decibels during the loudest hour of nearby traffic. He said his measurements throughout the site suggested an average range of 68 to 79 decibels.

"That 79 [decibels] is like an hour of an alarm clock going off or an hour of a vacuum cleaner," Staiano said.

Muffling the noise would be difficult and expensive because the land dips down near the road, requiring a wall at least 25 feet high, he said.

However, Joanna Hill-Thornton, whose house is across Route 103 and also next to I-95, said before the hearing that noise is not a problem in the neighborhood. She also said that her property's value jumped $40,000 in the past three years.

Losing a refuge

The Rev. Roland Howard of Elkridge is particularly upset about the rezoning request because a piece of land that has belonged to his family since 1898 is nearby. He said he saw that parcel as his way to escape from commercial buildings.

He lives on the other side of I-95, surrounded by warehouses in Meadowridge Business Park.

"I planned not to leave the community -- that's why I held on to a place where I could go and build a house," Howard said. "I shouldn't be going through this."

Hard-to-sell parcel

Deborah Pierson, who lives in Baltimore, inherited 4 acres being considered for rezoning. She said that her family has found it impossible to sell the property to a residential builder. Meanwhile, taxes on the property keep rising.

"We have had at least three different contracts in the last five, six years," she said. "They can't get a permit to build because of the environmental issues. ... It's a hazard, I believe, to the people who would be living there."

"What about the people working there?" asked Zoning Board member C. Vernon Gray.

"I don't know," Pierson said.

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