The 4.2-acre used-car lot that Frank Saglimbeni wants to build doesn't seem outsized in this era of big-box stores, but to hundreds of residents who live near the bucolic 19th-century crossroads known as Daisy in far western Howard County, it's a monster.
On a field where narrow, winding Daisy Road meets hilly, scenic Union Chapel Road in an unevenly aligned intersection, Saglimbeni plans to build a 3,850-square foot, two-story building and a lot for 155 vehicles on land that has been zoned for business for more than 50 years. A woodworking shop and a small foreign-car repair business occupy old wooden buildings on two other corners of the intersection, and new Honda cars and trucks are stored nearby in a fenced lot that once was home to a charter bus company.
"We're putting a family business up there that is going to improve the corner," Saglimbeni said yesterday, noting that he lives nearby in Woodbine and has been willing to talk to residents about their concerns. Commercial businesses have existed at the intersection since 1873, according to county officials.
But despite Saglimbeni's assurances, his plan drew a standing-room crowd of about 200 residents and a clutch of county officials to a community meeting at the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department hall Monday night. Residents have formed a new group called Concerned Citizens of Western Howard County to fight the plan.
Although one speaker defended the plan, others complained that it would bring traffic congestion, tractor-trailers loaded with cars, test drivers, air and water pollution and unwanted lights and strangers to their rural refuge from suburbia. One man threatened to shoot out any lights erected for the Car Corporation of America lot.
"This is the most incredible change we can imagine happening," Brenda Stewart, whose farm is near the intersection, told the crowd. Her husband, Jim Stewart, a veterinarian, said that based on his 37 years in residence, he believes that there will be more accidents on the winding, narrow roads and sharp, shoulderless turns if the lot is built.
"It's not a case of whether it will happen, but when it will happen. It's simply a recipe for tragedy," he said.
"You take your life in your hands already on Daisy Road," said Alma Wickenden, who lives on the road.
Residents also were angry that they heard about the plan only through word of mouth over the summer, not from the county. County law requires developers to hold information meetings with residents before submitting plans for residential projects, but not for commercial ones, said Jill Farrar, a county planner who attended the meeting.
Saglimbeni, who said he operates another Car Corporation of America lot in Beltsville, said he will have no repair shop in Daisy and plans a clean, well-landscaped operation. "I don't want to do anything there that's unsafe or devalues anyone's property."
He said he bought the land for $750,000 last year and has spent just over $100,000 to develop it.
At the meeting, he was defended by B. Justin Brendel, owner of a local grading and septic system business, who said he had considered buying the land.
"It seems like everybody thinks the world is going to end from a used-car lot. I'd rather share the road with a semi-truck any day before I'll share it with a commuter car," Brendel said.
The county has planned since 1999 to install a roundabout at Daisy and Union Chapel roads to improve safety there, but it has not been able to obtain the required land. The county is also designing replacements for two old bridges on Daisy Road, where vehicle weights and speeds are limited but routinely ignored, according to one resident.
Residents fear that the car business could worsen the traffic situation before improvements are made, and with another open field in the southwestern quadrant of the intersection also zoned commercial, that their tiny hamlet could turn into a small version of Clarksville's heavily commercial strip.
The citizens group has hired Tom Meachum, an experienced development attorney, who told members they cannot stop the project because the commercial zoning is there, but they can affect the way county development rules are applied to minimize the impact.
"You have to get active. You can't sit back and be passive," he said.
County Councilman Greg Fox, a Republican elected last year, told the crowd that the council is trying to make the development process more transparent.
"We don't want it to get to this point. It's a nightmare," he said.