Neighbors concerned over effect of car lot

Auction, repairs planned for old Pulaski Drive-In site

August 26, 2006|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,sun reporter

On summer mornings, Dorothy Hinnant drinks coffee on the front porch of her home in the Loreley Beach area of White Marsh. She savors the quiet neighborhood and, she says, the occasional glimpses of bald eagles soaring over nearby Bird River. But she worries that her peace will soon end.

Across the street from her home, developers plan to pave over a 15-acre wooded area that has been abandoned since the Pulaski Drive-In Theater closed decades ago. CarMax, which operates a car lot at another location in White Marsh, intends to repair and auction cars to dealers on the site.

Yesterday, representatives from CarMax explained their plans to more than two dozen Loreley Beach residents. Although an auto repair shop would be permitted under the current zoning regulations, CarMax must seek permission to conduct auctions on the site, which is sandwiched between Pulaski Highway and the Loreley Beach community.

A hearing had originally been scheduled for yesterday, but was postponed to allow both sides more time to discuss the details of the plan. No date has been set for a new hearing.

Hinnant and her neighbors said that they are concerned that light and noise from CarMax will destroy the tranquillity of their neighborhood and that runoff from the facility will damage Bird River, a tributary of Gunpowder Falls that the county has spent about $10 million restoring. A slice of the property sits within a Chesapeake Bay Critical Area site, because two streams that feed the Bird River run across the land.

"We've got our little community, our little niche community, and we don't want anything to lessen that," said resident Matt Gross, who attended the meeting with CarMax representatives. "We've got that old-time eastern Baltimore County feeling, with kids riding bikes and people parking boats in their yards."

Joe Jagdmann, real estate manager for CarMax, said the company would construct two ponds to filter silt and pollutants running from the lot, which the company is leasing. Engineers will post silt-catching fences before flattening the hilly parcel of land. CarMax will not cut down trees or pave 7 acres of the southern end of plot, which is residentially zoned, Jagdmann said.

Jagdmann told residents that before an auction, 110 to 200 cars would be left running for 45 minutes so that dealers could inspect them.

He assured residents that security lights will be no higher than 20 or 30 feet and will not interfere with views of the night sky. Neighbors will not be able to hear auctioneers, and adequate parking will be available for dealers, Jagdmann said.

Loreley Beach residents, gathering at Hinnant's home after the CarMax meeting, said they weren't convinced.

"We've heard a lot of promises over the years," said Hinnant, a minister who has lived a block from the Bird River since 1962. Neighbors said that they have had many disputes with the county over the nearby Eastern Sanitary Landfill and the Days Cove rubble landfill. Hinnant said that sometimes her house shakes when tests are conducted at Aberdeen Proving Ground or the Edgewood Arsenal.

"Noise pollution? It's here. Air pollution? It's here. Water pollution? It's here," said resident Fran Sanderson, a retired nurse. "We're not trying to give them a hard time, but we live here, and they don't."

The Bowerman Loreley Beach Community Association has hired G. Macy Nelson, a lawyer specializing in environmental issues, to represent it. Residents do not want to hear noise or see lights from CarMax, and they want to ensure that air and water pollution is closely monitored.

David Carroll, director of the county's environmental agency, said that the county has worked hard to save Bird River, which was once on a federal watch list of endangered waterways. For decades, sand and gravel operations dumped sediment in the river, clogging the waterway and killing fish and plants, he said.

Now, a resurgence of bay grasses indicates that the river is recovering, Carroll said. Although he has not studied the CarMax plan, he said that laws governing storm water, erosion control and forest conservation would curb damage to the waterway. He said that he intends to review the plans in the coming weeks.

Carroll pointed out that although residents may have become accustomed to seeing the former drive-in as an untamed forest, it has long been commercially zoned.

"One problem here -- and I see this all around the county -- is that people are assuming that the land use around them will never change," Carroll said. "They live near a vacant lot, they see it as a wooded area, and I understand this, but they get complacent about it. We have to have jobs and places for people to live."

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