'Major' zoning change sought

Council weighs bid to increase size of food stores in Turf Valley

October 19, 2008|By Jonanthan Pitts | Jonanthan Pitts,jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

Developers' plans never die. They don't even fade away. They just come back later, in another form.

That's the thinking of Marc Norman, a resident of Turf Valley, at least since he learned earlier this fall that Mangione Family Enterprises - which owns the 809-acre planned golf-and-residential community just west of Ellicott City - is backing an effort to significantly expand the permitted size of grocery stores there.

The measure would increase the allowed size of food stores in Turf Valley from 18,000 square feet, its current limit, to 55,000 square feet.

The Mangione company has said the change is necessary if it is to create a viable regional shopping center in Turf Valley. Norman, co-chair of a citizens group called Responsible Growth In Our Neighborhood and a frequent critic of the developer, has called on the county to devote more time to examining the proposal's "potentially vast" impact.

"This isn't some minuscule change," he says. "It's major. The public needs more time to consider it."

The County Council takes up the matter at its monthly public hearing tomorrow night.

This won't be the first time Turf Valley, a residential and commercial community between U.S. 40 and Interstate 70, has been the subject of a zoning disagreement. The county created a zoning category - "Planned Golf Course Community" (PGCC), also known as Zoning Code Section 126 - in 1985. Then as now, it included only Turf Valley.

The original intent was to keep things small and neighborly, says Lloyd Knowles, who was chair of the county planning and zoning board at the time - one reason the regulations included a size limit of 3,000 square feet for food stores.

"[We] visualized a neighborhood convenience store sized to fulfill the needs of the immediate community, not a regional supermarket," Knowles, a smart-growth activist who lives in Columbia, wrote in a recent e-mail to the council. "A place where one could pick up a loaf of bread, some milk and a pound of sausage for the family dinner."

He says the current proposal "goes far beyond the ideal concept of a food store in the PGCC zone."

Time and growth have pushed the boundaries of Section 126 and at times enlarged them. In 1993, the permissible limit for food stores was raised to 18,000 square feet - leaving enough space for a typical Whole Foods or Trader Joe's store.

The limit the Mangione company and fellow developer Greenberg Gibbons Commercial of Annapolis are now pushing would accommodate a typical modern Safeway or Giant Food. That's considerably less than the 100,000 square feet or more occupied by today's average big-box store.

But even upzoning to 55,000 square feet, Norman says, would change the character of Turf Valley enough to jeopardize nearby businesses, and the county should give the public more time to consider the proposal, he says.

"We're not talking about a tiny footprint," he says. "This ... regional shopping center would have a huge impact on the Route 40 shopping corridor and affect many other stores, large and small, within three or four miles."

The Mangione company pitched a similar amendment during Howard County's last comprehensive rezoning in 2003. That request, which called for greater residential density in Turf Valley, included enlarging the permitted size of food stores to 65,000 square feet.

Louis Mangione, the company's vice president for development, called that necessary if the company were to build the Columbia-style village center it hoped to. But in the face of growing public opposition, the company withdrew the request only hours before a council hearing at which it was to be discussed.

Now, Mangione Family Enterprises and Greenberg Gibbons are presenting a similar change as a text amendment - an approach that usually happens more quickly and with less public notice than it would as part of a scheduled comprehensive rezoning.

Louis Mangione could not be reached for comment.

Planning and Zoning officials first placed the proposal on the planning board's calendar in late August. The board voted unanimously to support it during a meeting earlier this month. The council could rule on the proposed amendment as early as Nov. 3, its next voting session.

Tomorrow night's meeting - to be held at the council's new interim headquarters in the board room of the Board of Education on Route 108 - will be the public's only chance to speak on the measure, Zoning Regulation Amendment 100, before that time.

County officials also said comments can be e-mailed to councilmail@howardcountymd.gov.

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