Dorsey's Search strip mall on hold

Residents object

planners suggest rejecting project

Columbia

April 05, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

A developer who wants to build a strip shopping mall across from Dorsey's Search Village Center put those plans on hold this week after neighbors objected and county planners recommended the project be rejected.

But that is not expected to be the last word for either side. The developer still hopes to build the center in some form, while village officials and merchants have hired lawyers to try to stop the project for good.

"Our plan of action is, just assume that at any time the petitioner could choose to have it put back on the agenda," said Deborah Seate, chairwoman of the Dorsey's Search Village Board, which is concerned about increased traffic, "visual clutter" and the health of its village center.

Timothy J. McCrone, a lawyer for Security Development of Ellicott City, said the company hopes to devise a plan that the village will accept.

"Security Development is still very much interested in working with the community to develop a plan that would meet with the approval of the neighbors," he said.

Security Development wants to build a shopping center on 8 acres on the southeast corner of Old Annapolis and Columbia roads. The project would include a two-story, 21,600-square- foot building for retail and offices; a 15,000-square-foot Walgreens pharmacy; a fast-food restaurant; a bank; a gas station; and a carwash.

The land is zoned for residential use, but the developer maintains that the designation was the result of a mistake.

"The subject parcels were designated on the 1990 General Plan Map for commercial land use; however, the 1993 comprehensive rezoning left the subject parcels zoned R-20 [residential]," the developer contends in documents submitted to the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.

But in a "technical staff report" dated March 28, the department concluded that no mistake had been made. The report was submitted to the county's Planning Board, which had been scheduled to hold a hearing on the plan yesterday. The hearing was canceled after McCrone requested an indefinite postponement Tuesday.

The General Plan acknowledged that the area - surrounded by busy roads and commercial enterprises - might not be appropriate for residential use at some point during the next 20 years, the staff report said.

But that finding "certainly does not constitute a mistake in zoning to not propose a map amendment for the Site within three years of the 1990 General Plan," the report said.

To change zoning, a developer must prove one of three conditions: that the character of the surrounding neighborhood has changed; that there is no possible use for the land under existing zoning; or that the current zoning is a mistake. Security Development does not claim that the neighborhood has changed or that there is no other use for the land.

Zoning also can be changed through the county's comprehensive rezoning process, a periodic review and revision of permitted land uses throughout Howard.

McCrone said he interprets the staff report to mean, "the existing zoning is no longer appropriate, but they would prefer to address it in comprehensive [rezoning]."

Village officials are preparing to fight any changes that could come about during the comprehensive rezoning process, which they believe could happen sometime next year, Seate said.

On the advice of a lawyer hired to fight the plan, the village is looking for a land-use expert who can help it make the case for keeping the land residential or, if that is not possible, recommend another use that would be more compatible than the proposed shopping center, Seate said.

"We clearly want that land to stay residential," Seate said.

Residents, merchants and village officials are concerned about Security Development's plan because they believe it would bring more traffic to the congested area, west of U.S. 29 and north of Route 108.

Surrounded by Columbia but not part of the planned community, the land is an "outparcel" that is not subject to the Columbia Association's stringent architectural standards. At a public hearing last month, residents expressed concern that the new center would not be discreetly tucked behind berms and trees as the village center is.

They also voiced concern for the health of the village center, which has some vacancies.

"I really don't like it," Nini Luu, who owns a barber shop in the center, said of the new plan. "It's unnecessary. We have everything we need around here."

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