With a bit of theatrics thrown in for good measure, Howard County's Zoning Board stood fast last night to its original decision that the residential zoning on a hotly debated corner of Marriottsville land should not be changed.
The board, which originally voted on the issue in October, rarely rehears cases but had agreed to give the developer and opponents 30 minutes each to argue their sides again. The 2.4-acre parcel at Route 99 and Marriottsville Road is zoned "rural conservation," but developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. wants a commercial designation.
This time, board members reversed themselves and decided that there was indeed a legal reason to rezone if they chose - but after a few tense moments declined to do so.
The vote, which baffled Reuwer, relieved a group of residents who fears that such a zoning change would set a precedent needed to spur commercial growth farther into the rural west. But both sides realize this isn't the final word.
"I don't know how you can say there's a mistake and then turn around and perpetuate the same mistake," Reuwer said, vowing a court appeal.
Robin Todd, president of the nearby Allenford Community Association, promised in turn: "We'll be back."
Reuwer contends that the property, across the street from Waverly Woods, is no longer fit for houses because the intersection is busy and noisy.
He also said it is the only area in the county zoned rural conservation that is eligible for public water and sewer service. That distinction prevents him from enrolling the parcel in the "rural business" zone and from building, for instance, a gas station.
Marriottsville residents argued that the land is not eligible for public water and sewers. They provided the Zoning Board with a county map that shows the property on the other side of the service line.
Before the panel can consider whether to change a parcel's zoning, it must find either that the neighborhood surrounding the land has changed significantly since the zoning designation was approved or that the zoning was a mistake.
Seven months ago, 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 had been made.
Last night, the board again voted that the neighborhood had not changed - this time by a 3-2 vote. But the majority - Merdon and Democrats C. Vernon Gray and Guy J. Guzzone - thought a mistake had been made in the zoning.
"Folks, I think we can leave it the way it is," pleaded Kittleman, who represents western Howard.
That's eventually what the board decided to do, by a 4-1 vote.
Gray, the dissenting member, said the water and sewer service convinced him that the zoning should be changed. He assumes it will be, once the board tackles comprehensive rezoning of the county in the next year or two.
"It's going to happen anyway," he said.
Reuwer has said he wants to build a 16,000-square-foot, two-story office building to look like a Colonial mansion, with a stucco facade and dormers. But he warned several weeks ago that a gas station is more profitable and would be "the natural outcome" if he wins by court appeal.
He has flipped between the two proposals before, dismaying opponents who hate the idea of a gas station. But last night, residents walked out pleased.
"I thought it was a sensible decision, and I think it reflects the will of the community," said Todd, whose Ellicott City neighborhood is near the site. "The average person doesn't want that area to go commercial."