After decades of fighting, homeowners and businesses wedged into the Route 3 median in Gambrills are one step closer to a zoning change that would let them improve and sell their properties.
The Anne Arundel County Council's approval this month of the Odenton Small Area Plan included a recommendation to change the zoning in the wide, oddly shaped median (about a mile long and 400 feet wide) from residential to commercial. The change is expected to be official in the spring, when the county undertakes its comprehensive rezoning initiative.
For the dozen or so homeowners who have risked their lives to fetch letters from mailboxes on the other side of the highway and lost countless pets to high-speed passers-by, the decision is a relief.
Since the late 1950s, when state highway officials plowed through flowerbeds and back yards to create the two-lane southbound portion of Route 3, residents have tried to convince the county that the strip is no longer suitable for living.
"We're probably more relieved than thrilled. `Thrilled' just doesn't enter into it after so many years," said Sharon Gertz, who has owned property in the median strip since 1981.
Gertz was among the residents who lobbied the county to change the property zoning to commercial in the late 1980s. The county granted a compromise, giving the owners commercial allowances.
County planners had been reluctant to rezone the property because the State Highway Administration has been considering several scenarios, including turning one of the lanes into a limited-access interstate.
But opposition from Crofton and Bowie residents scuttled those plans, and the state isn't certain what, if any, changes it will make to Route 3. The hybrid zoning granted in the 1980s has caused problems for property owners along the once-rural road, which is now a major commuting route.
Gertz, who rents out her property, had to turn down excavators and trucking companies that would have paid commercial prices because the zoning permitted only light industrial use. When the tax business she rented to moved out last year, Gertz lost about a year's rental income, almost $15,000, because she couldn't find a suitable tenant.
Once the change to heavy commercial zoning goes through, which is expected to happen in the spring, Gertz and her husband will be able to apply for a commercial loan to make improvements to their property.
County planner Michael Fox, who worked on the Odenton Small Area Plan for about two years, said median-strip property owners will have to wait until spring for the zoning to become official because the council has to adopt the Odenton Town Center plan.
He said he does not expect last-minute changes in the zoning. County Executive Janet S. Owens has supported a change to commercial zoning since she visited the properties two years ago, and county planners have long felt that keeping the zoning residential was unfair.
Fox said he is not sure how quickly change would arrive at the median strip, which includes a hodgepodge of zoning that has allowed for fast-food restaurants and gas stations next to homes.