Plan to rezone garden center site draws mixed responses

Situation is a `Catch-22,' Long Reach residents say

Columbia

December 19, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Grandfather's Garden Center has been sitting at Route 108 and Phelps Luck Drive in Long Reach for 18 years and has long been considered an eyesore by some local residents.

And now that the land on which it sits could be developed, they fear what could rise in its place.

For years, the garden center property has been governed by covenants that restricted it to agricultural use and allowed for only one residence.

But those restrictions could be lifted, making residential development possible. Howard County Zoning Board member David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat, has asked that Rouse Co. remove those covenants, permitting the land to be sold and developed at a higher profit.

Dennis Miller, Rouse vice president and general manager of Columbia, has agreed to that request - if the Long Reach Village Board desires such a move - as a part of the development company's petition to increase Columbia's residential density.

But residents are unsure if they would welcome such a change to the 5.6-acre site, which is owned by Ed Miller.

"[Ed Miller] has the potential of making a large gain with the neighborhood losing out in the process," resident Bill Wilson said. "I believe the rest of the neighborhood's housing values would end up dropping dramatically, if [the area] were heavily residential or commercialized."

Ed Miller's lawyer, Gerald M. Richman, said his client did not want to comment on the matter. Richman said use of the land as a nursery "is about getting in its last gasps."

Richman said that if the restrictions were lifted, Miller would want to develop the land while abiding by agreements reached with the village association. He said that he and Miller expect that "high-quality housing consistent with the surrounding area" would be built.

Richman said he and Miller are open to working with residents and that they plan to attend a community meeting Jan. 20 on the subject.

"It would be to the benefit to the community if there was new housing put in there," Richman said.

If Rouse's petition is approved - the Zoning Board has finished public hearings but has not ruled on the matter - 1,600 residential units would be developed in the area behind Symphony Woods in Town Center. Oakland Mills would receive 150 units, and Kings Contrivance would gain 100 units. An additional 291 units would be set aside for the other villages to use on a first-come basis.

Dennis Miller has said that villages could use those units to revitalize their communities. He told the Long Reach Village Board last month that its decision about the garden center would be the first illustration of a village having control over how the residential units are used.

"It's up to the village," he said. "If the village board determines they want to have the covenants removed, by all means I'll do so."

He told the village board that he has a neutral position on the matter. "I'm merely going to react to what you direct me to do," Rouse's Miller said.

The handful of residents who attended that meeting said they were unsure what would be best for the neighborhood. Some complained about the appearance of the garden center, saying the business has trash in some spots and does not create a welcoming environment.

Resident Peter Both, whose home on Luckpenny Place abuts the garden center land, told the board that the area needs to be cleaned up.

"It's getting bad," he said.

His wife, Donna, said in an interview that her family is in a "Catch-22" situation because while they want the area to be cleaner, they don't want townhomes, apartments or businesses built on the site. She worries that would add too much traffic to a congested area.

"Once they lift those restrictions, then you're kind of at their mercy," she said.

Wilson told the board he was "shocked and disgusted" that the garden center is now a part of Rouse's proposal. He echoed the concern of many residents at the meeting who said they were confused by Rakes' request.

"It's either going to be more commercial, or it's going to be more crowded and busy," Wilson said.

"And I think we are already past the limit that is comfortable for the neighborhood."

Donna Both said she understands that Ed Miller wants the land's restrictions removed so he can develop the area at a higher price, and she can't blame him for that.

"He wants to walk away a millionaire," she said. "And he has a right to that, just as much as we have a right in helping our community decide what [the development] looks like."

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