Restaurant rezoning would have a ripple effect

having your say

August 25, 2008|By Kathleen House and Polly Roberts

A single zoning change affecting one restaurant may not seem like a big deal. But the proposal to rezone the park property leased by the Oregon Grille could have ramifications for the rural character of a large area of northern Baltimore County. Residents would do well to watch for the outcome of this controversial zoning request that will be voted on by the Baltimore County Council tomorrow evening.

The proprietor of the Oregon Grille restaurant has requested a change of zoning for the 2.8 acres in Oregon Ridge Park that he leases, along with the building, from the county for $5,000 per year. The proposed zoning change would be from "resource conservation" to "business local." The resource designation is undeniably the appropriate zoning for the land in question, which contains a stream and is part of the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed. Moreover, Baltimore County's Master Plan 2010 recommends against granting requests for zoning changes that increase development densities in the Loch Raven watershed area. In fact, the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management is recommending that the existing zoning be maintained in this case, in accordance with long-standing policies and regional agreements to protect the county's water quality.

According to the master plan, "Zoning changes that would permit ... increased commercial development should not be granted. It is especially important to avoid setting precedents that could lead to future up-zoning by producing a change in the area's rural character." Designating this property as business local would set a zoning precedent and open the floodgate for commercial development along western Shawan Road and beyond. The desires of one businessman should not be allowed to hijack our clearly defined planning process and goals.

The Oregon Grille is allowed to operate in resource conservation zoning only because of special exceptions originally agreed to by surrounding community groups and later reinforced by the county's Board of Appeals. The restaurant owner now wants business local zoning in order to expand operations and circumvent the carefully crafted lease restrictions. Although the building plans have not been revealed, we know that the restaurant parking lot has been paved beyond the allowed number of spaces and has been expanded onto park property outside the leased area. This zoning request has raised fierce community opposition, including from all of the surrounding community associations and at least 650 county residents who have signed a petition.

If the County Council votes in favor of the business zoning, citizens will know that our public parkland, bought and maintained with our tax money and enjoyed by so many of us, is being sold out. They will also understand that protections to ensure our water quality are being eroded and that our remaining green spaces are in danger of commercial development, reversing years of painstaking effort to preserve them.

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