Appeals panel reconsidering Dorsey case

Zoning variance needed to build warehouse

Elkridge

March 14, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

There have been a lot of changes since the petition to build a warehouse near the community of Dorsey was first brought before the Board of Appeals in 2000.

The developer has a new lawyer, two new board members are listening to the case and there is a new technical staff report on details of the proposed project.

All of that underlines the complexity of a case that seems fated to go on for months.

The prospective developer of the warehouse, Dorsey Rock LLC, is seeking a variance to build a 175,000-square-foot structure on a 16-acre property zoned for heavy manufacturing.

The developer proposes to build a parking area for the warehouse within 30 feet of a residential neighborhood. County zoning rules say there should be at least a 150-foot buffer between residential properties and the warehouse.

The plan was first proposed in 2000 before the county Planning Board, which recommended the request for a variance be denied.

The Board of Appeals followed the recommendation, then the Howard County Circuit Court affirmed the appeals panel's decision.

But in 2001 the state Court of Special Appeals remanded the case to Howard's Board of Appeals, writing in its opinion 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."

Members of the Board of Appeals were still hearing witnesses in the case at 9:30 last night after agreeing to allow new testimony by opponents and enter a new technical study of the developer's plan into the record.

Dorsey Rock hired a new lawyer after the appeals court's decision. Two new board members testified last night that they had listened to tapes of the testimony from the previous hearings in 2000.

Hearing additional testimony in the case was important be cause "we don't want to have another technical flaw in the case and have it sent back again," said Paul T. Johnson, deputy county solicitor. By "dotting every `i' and crossing every `t' " he said, "hopefully, there won't be any problem as perceived by the court."

People who live in the neighborhood where the warehouse is being proposed complained about the extended proceedings, saying they have already spent more than $10,000 on legal fees and were devastated by the appeals court's decision.

Although the Board of Appeals voted to hear only testimony addressing information from a revised technical staff report, residents say they are struggling to stay positive for what could be years of additional hearings and appeals.

You just take it one day at a time, Dorsey resident Sally Voris said.

Voris said she had testified at a recent county Planning Board hearing against a proposed extension of Dorsey Run Road, which she said would aid industrial users.

"The county shouldn't spend more money [on industry] until the health and welfare of the residents has been protected," Voris said.

The situation seemed bleak to others.

"If the variance passes, I'm going to move," said Lee Baker, who lives one of the two homes closest to the property. His said his family has health problems that make living near petroleum fumes impossible.

Residents feel that traffic and diesel fumes from the proposed 24-hour facility would be too much for a community like Dorsey to bear. The area lies within a certified airport noise zone and experiences noise and pollution from Interstate 95, U.S. 1, Route 176 and nearby railroad tracks.

R. Jacob Hikmat, the developer's project engineer for the warehouse, said that a retaining wall would help ease residents' concerns about sound from the facility.

Hikmat said that because only about 5.75 acres of the 16 acre warehouse parcel is suitable for construction due to environmental and terrain issues, a commercially viable warehouse could not be built without using land close enough to residences to require a variance.

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