Howard zoning changes alter U.S. 1 plan

Gas station blocked

senior housing dropped

April 19, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Several closely watched developments within the U.S. 1 corridor have changed direction now that the new mixed-use zones recently approved by the Howard County Council have taken effect.

In North Laurel, plans for a gas station in the median strip of U.S. 1 cannot go forward, despite recent approval by the county Board of Appeals, because the use is not allowed in the "corridor activity center" district now placed on the area.

And at the site of a former Elkridge drive-in, between 300 and 400 townhouses and condominiums will be built rather than the housing for seniors that was originally proposed. Plans for office buildings and an upscale hotel will continue.

The changes to projects in the pipeline will allow the vision for redevelopment of the largely industrial and commercial commuter corridor to move forward, said Elkridge resident Kevin Doyle, who served as co-chairman of the Route 1 Revitalization Task Force, a group of residents, business owners and county staff that studied the area between Interstate 95 and the Anne Arundel border.

"The problem is [redevelopment] takes time and ... things are happening in the meantime," Doyle said.

The corridor activity center promotes integration of shops, offices and apartments with pedestrian-friendly features such as sidewalks and benches. Up to 25 homes can be built per acre within its boundaries.

Given its layout, the middle of North Laurel's median strip was the focus of a comprehensive and detailed plan to create a town center-like atmosphere, Doyle said. "A gas station in that median strip is totally counter to the vision that we had laid out," he said.

Last year, the county hearing examiner denied Mel-Brook LLC and Eastern Petroleum Corp.'s request for conditional-use permission to build a gas station with a carwash, convenience store and fast-food restaurant on about 2.4 acres that once were the site of three mobile home parks.

The county Board of Appeals overturned that in a decision signed March 4 - a month after the County Council approved the corridor activity center district.

North Laurel Civic Association treasurer Donna Thewes testified against Mel-Brook's request for conditional-use permission, saying she hoped to see a family restaurant or "things that are designed for the community, not transient traffic."

"We would be glad to talk to them about what we would like in our community," Thewes added.

Developers say they have embraced the dreams for U.S. 1.

Columbia-based Brantly Development Group has a contract to purchase 13 acres of the former drive-in, said its president, John F. Liparini. The company is still refining its plans, he said, but intends to build a combination of townhouses and condominiums as well as two or three office buildings.

"We feel like we're in the middle of Elkridge," Liparini said. "This could possibly be the project that sets the tone for the rest of the corridor."

The drive-in property, which is five miles from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, has remained vacant since Barry and Charu Mehta bought it from the former operators in 1986.

Last year they began processing plans to construct offices, restaurants, retail space and about 370 homes for seniors on the property. Using the guidelines of the new corridor activity center district, they hope to move forward with plans to build a 24,000- square-foot office building with retail on the first floor as well as an upscale 150-room hotel with a restaurant on the four remaining acres.

Liparini said the group plans to meet with the community about the project, to be named Elkridge Crossing.

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