More testimony set for Dorsey debate over warehouse plan

Reconsideration to include hearing from both sides on variance

noise at issue

January 10, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Residents who have spent three years and thousands of dollars fighting construction of a warehouse near their homes in the Elkridge neighborhood of Dorsey are facing more weeks of public debate on the issue after a decision by the county Board of Appeals last night.

The board voted, 3 to 1, to reconsider a request for a variance by Dorsey Rock LLC to reduce to 30 feet a required 150-foot setback from a residential district for traffic to the warehouse.

Board member Jacqueline Scott was absent.

The 16.32-acre parcel where construction of the warehouse is proposed is zoned for heavy industrial use but lies close to the residential area of Dorsey. Only 8.5 acres are suitable for building, however, because of wetlands on the site, making the variance necessary for construction of a structure that size.

The developer also asked that the setback for a retaining wall be reduced from 150 feet to 45 feet and that the setback for the 175,000-square-foot warehouse be reduced from 150 feet to 60 feet.

The variance requests had been denied by the Planning Board and Board of Appeals in 2000. When the developer appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, however, the court stated that "an absence of adequate factual findings and legal reasoning renders it impossible for this court to determine whether the board was legally correct when denying the variance."

Residents say they endure enough with noise from a concrete-crushing plant, nearby railroad tracks and Interstate 95 and U.S. 1. But, they say, privacy is still afforded by large lots and the streets which dead-end on the wooded setback area where the warehouse is proposed.

Some residents also are worried about traffic and diesel fumes from trucks that might use the warehouse.

The residents spent up to $10,000 on a lawyer to defend the original zoning decision through the various appeals.

The decision criticized by the appellate court was written by a lawyer from the county Office of Law.

County Solicitor Barbara Cook, who oversees the Office of Law, did not return calls seeking comment on the court's criticism of the decision.

The Court of Special Appeals remanded the case to the Board of Appeals, which held a work session last night to discuss its options.

Although neither party is usually allowed to testify at a work session, board Chairman Robert C. Sharps allowed attorneys for both parties to explain how they would like the board to proceed, "due to the complexity and sensitivity of the case," he said.

Howard L. Alderman, attorney for the developers, said reopening the case to new testimony from both sides was the only option because the board requested a revised technical staff report on the petition in November, and the rules governing the board state that they cannot accept any new evidence without allowing both sides to comment.

Tom Dernoga, attorney for the residents, said that since the court ruled that county Board of Appeals' opinion was inadequately written and failed to explain its position, the board should simply order its counsel to rewrite the decision to more clearly state the reason for denying the variance.

The board, however, voted against ordering that a new decision be immediately written.

Board members decided to hear new evidence to allow both sides to respond to the revised technical staff report from the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

The board will hear testimony from both sides in the case March 13. The testimony will be restricted to discussing new information included in the revised technical report.

Alderman, the lawyer for the developer, was pleased with the board's decision.

"They have to accept evidence from both parties," he said. Alderman was certain that "one night will not be enough" to hear all the witnesses, however.

Dernoga did not think the additional testimony would be fruitful.

"I don't think we're going to hear anything new," he said.

Some residents who attended the meeting were outraged with members of the board who did not feel they could rule without hearing testimony firsthand.

"What would happen if every time a government body changes, you had to restart?" asked Lee Baker.

He and other residents are considering public protests, including picketing the site.

Neighborhood resident Sally Voris said she plans to write and present a play dramatizing what the residents have been through. "We're trying to find ways to raise money to continue the fight," she said.

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