Applying Brake To Used-car Lot

Residents At Forum Deplore Commercial Plan For Daisy

July 12, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,

Western Howard County residents who have battled for nearly two years to block a proposed used-car dealership in rural Daisy, dominated County Executive Ken Ulman's third annual town hall meeting Wednesday night in Ellicott City.

Nine of the 16 speakers at the 73-minute forum at Mount Hebron High School talked about the car lot and business zoning in rural areas, and most urged Ulman to back the quick establishment of a citizens task force to study the issue before the county undertakes a once-a-decade general plan review. Ted Mariani asked Ulman for the county's support in converting the lot at Daisy and Union Chapel roads into a park if private conservation funding can be secured to buy the land.

"We have over 100 families who have signed a petition to create a community park," Mariani, a prominent Republican, told the Democratic county executive. Ulman agreed to meet with him and other residents to talk about the issue, and Mariani said he was pleased to hear that.

Ulman said he, too, opposes the used-car lot, but the law allows it to be built.

"We've made some progress in that there is not a car dealership built," Ulman said. He told Richard Tufts, another speaker, that he favors a study of rural business zoning. "My gut is the timing is it needs to happen now," he said. County planners are working on the huge plan to remake downtown Columbia now before the Planning Board, and legislation before the County Council to revamp how village centers can be redeveloped. Those issues have pushed back the General Plan review.

The Daisy crossroads has been zoned for business for more than half a century, but residents became enraged in 2007 at the prospect of a used-car lot in the rural location. A foreign car repair garage occupies another part of the intersection, and a third corner was once used to store new vehicles and large buses.

The recession has helped delay construction of the new business, which would replace trees and grass with more than 160 vehicles and a two-story building.

Ulman was on a first-name basis with several of the night's speakers, such as Stu Kohn of North Laurel, who came to emphasize his concern about crowding at the Howard County General Hospital emergency room, and Bridget Mugane, president of the Howard County Citizens Association, who urged a review of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance to include things like health facilities, and about rural zoning.

Other speakers complained about graffiti in the Lake Elkhorn area, trash along rural roads, the difficulty in converting private entry roads to a few developments to publicly maintained ones, and plans to build a large Walgreens drugstore in Thunder Hill. One resident of Chateau Ridge, a development just east of Doughoregan Manor, the nearly 900-acre Carroll family estate, asked what will happen now that Erickson Retirement Communities has backed out of a deal to develop a complex on 150 acres there.

The meeting was shorter than the previous two, with fewer residents in attendance, but Ulman vowed to continue the sessions next summer.

"It's an important opportunity," he said, interpreting the lower participation as a good sign.

"People seemed to be reasonably pleased with the county," he said.

Sue Neri of Owen Brown isn't one of them, however.

A 43-year Columbia resident, she said she's fed up with graffiti on trees, utility boxes, light poles and other surfaces around Lake Elkhorn, and on surrounding streets like Dobbin and Oakland Mills roads and Homespun Drive. Utility companies such as Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Verizon are slow to erase the spray-painted designs, she said.

"What can be done to get this graffiti erased," she said, adding that obscenities have been staring her in the face on Homespun for weeks. Ulman said the police are working to arrest the culprits.

Former Columbia Association board member Barbara Russell and Froydis Beckerman of Oakland Mills complained about the Walgreens, though they acknowledged that the Oakland Mills Village Board supports the store's construction.

"We're afraid that building a Walgreens will take business away from our village center," Russell said. She suggested the vacant bank building on the site be converted to open space instead.

Robin Horton of Daisy had another complaint, though - trash left by motorists and newspaper delivery people along the rural roads where she walks for exercise.

"It's just unbelievable when I walk," she said.

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