Petition to build funeral home in Highland ends at crossroads

Board denies permission because of traffic concerns

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

The unusual characteristics of a rural crossroads prompted three of the five members of the Board of Appeals last night to deny a petition to construct a large funeral home in southern Howard.

Developer Souder Builders sought "conditional use" permission to build an approximately 12,000-square-foot structure on about 4 acres near Route 108 and Highland Road for the Donaldson Funeral Home of Laurel. Its chapel would seat 120, with 45 parking spaces.

Neighbors of the Highland site felt the one-and-a-half-story building would dwarf others nearby, including the small grocery store, saddlery and veterinary office that occupy the corners.

Residents also feared the intersection could not bear the additional traffic a funeral home would bring and felt Highland's shoulderless roads provided no room for overflow parking if the funeral home's lot was full.

Souder Builders' attorney, David A. Carney, said he plans to file a motion for the board to reconsider its decision - even before it issues a written ruling.

He believes members did not follow the criteria that the board must consider to evaluate a case. At this level, "traffic is not an issue whatsoever," Carney said. "The criteria is safe ingress and egress from the site."

During the site development plan review process, developers must prove that a proposal passes the tests of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that evaluate the burden on roads and other services, he said - not while seeking a conditional use.

The applicants and opposition had met for nine nights before the board. The hearings had generated 4.2 pounds worth of testimony, said board member Robert C. Sharps.

The five board members deliberated for more than an hour last night before voting shortly before 9 p.m.

Board Chairman Pat Patterson, who supported the petition, said he lived near two funeral homes that did not affect his travels.

"I think a funeral home is a very benign kind of use," he said. "I've never been inadvertently delayed by a funeral."

But board member Albert Hayes said that the traffic data presented as evidence did not reflect the reality of a constantly changing intersection.

"I don't think the dynamics of that intersection confirm the static studies that were done," he said. He voted to deny, as did board member Robert C. Sharps.

Board member Jacqueline Scott also voted against the business, concerned that funeral processions would stop traffic, particularly during rush hour.

But board member James Pfefferkorn said he didn't have a problem with traffic.

"Certainly it's going to have an impact," he said. "Will it be greater at this intersection? I don't think so." He voted to grant the petition.

The Department of Planning and Zoning had recommended denial of the petition, stating that the proposal was not in harmony with the Howard County General Plan. In March, County Hearing Examiner Thomas P. Carbo ruled - without hearing testimony from the residents - that the developer of the project had not proven it would meet county standards.

But in his written summation for the Board of Appeals case, Carney, the developer's attorney, stated that the opposition had not shown that the area would suffer more adverse effects than those normally associated with a funeral home.

Dan O'Leary, president of the Greater Highlands Crossroads Association, said he and other residents are thrilled with the result, despite the dissent among the board.

Experience with the funeral home proposal spurred residents to form a community organization. About 100 families have joined the Greater Highland Crossroads Association, and committees have been formed to address concerns in the community, said O'Leary, whose home is adjacent to the proposed funeral home's site.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.