Zoning fight enters round two

In a rare action, board to reconsider office building plan

March 22, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Marriottsville residents thought they had won a rare victory over one of Howard County's most successful developers when the county Zoning Board refused to rezone to commercial a parcel he owns in town.

They may have celebrated too soon.

In a rare reconsideration of a zoning case, the board has decided to vote again at a yet-unscheduled meeting. They will hear 30 minutes of arguments from each side.

Developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. petitioned for the review, contending that his land's zoning is "clearly" a mistake.

The 2.4-acre parcel at Route 99 and Marriottsville Road, across the street from Waverly Woods, is residentially zoned. Reuwer contends it is no longer suitable for houses because the intersection is busy and noisy. He also thinks it is the only land in the county zoned "rural conservation" that is eligible for public water and sewer service.

That distinction limits his options. People with residential land can get permission to enroll it in the "rural business" zone - but not if the property is in the public water and sewer area.

"It's a Catch-22," Reuwer said this week. "Our goal is to put up this very, very classy office building which would serve as a boundary definer for the whole community."

The Zoning Board, made up of County Council members, voted 3-2 last week to reconsider the case and could end up simply reaffirming its original decision. But residents who fought the rezoning request the first time around - disputing that the land is eligible for public sewer service - are gearing up for another skirmish.

"He's pulling out every stop he can ... to get a profit off that parcel of land," said Jack Butler, who lives in Marriottsville and thought the issue was resolved. "Obviously, he's got everything to gain and the local community's got everything to lose."

Butler agreed that the community has changed, but he argued that Reuwer did that himself by helping develop Waverly Woods. Butler worries that commercial development at that intersection will beget more commercial development farther west.

"It'll never end," he said.

Before they can vote to rezone parcels, Zoning Board members must determine either that the character of the area has changed or that the zoning was a mistake.

In October, the board unanimously agreed that the area had not changed sufficiently to warrant rezoning. The majority - Democrat Mary C. Lorsung and Republicans Allan H. Kittleman and Christopher J. Merdon - thought no mistake in zoning designation had been made.

Last week, the Republicans joined Democrat C. Vernon Gray to vote for another hearing.

"I can't think of it ever happening [before]," said Democrat Guy J. Guzzone, vice chairman of the board.

Outside of public hearings, Zoning Board members can speak only about process and not about the details of cases they're considering. But Guzzone - who had voted in October that there was a mistake in zoning - clarified at the time that he was not in favor of altering the parcel from rural conservation.

"I don't believe that we should be changing any RC to a higher zone," he said.

Ellen Rhudy, who has lived in Marriottsville for nearly 25 years and opposes Reuwer's rezoning request, said the original decision should stand. "I think they will - after looking at it again - come to the same conclusion," she added.

If they do, Reuwer said he plans to appeal to Howard County Circuit Court.

He described his development proposal as a 16,000-square-foot, two-story office building constructed to look like a Colonial mansion, with a stucco facade and dormers. Parking would be hidden behind the building.

"It'll look like it's been there for 100 years," he said.

Reuwer originally had pitched the office plan to opponents last year, offering them a written contract that he would build nothing else if they agreed not to oppose his rezoning request. When they declined, saying it would worsen a congested intersection, he horrified them by telling the Zoning Board that he was considering a gas station project instead.

Yesterday, he explained that a gas station would be more profitable, and suggested that it would be "the natural outcome" if he ends up winning by court appeal.

"But I can't emphasize enough, that's not the direction we want to go," he said. "It's part of my business strategy to have strategically located office buildings on really, really `A' sites. I think that's an `A' site."

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