A years-long fight over whether to allow a gas station/convenience store and car wash in the Waverly Woods Village Center in Woodstock is a step closer to a resolution that some residents are unhappy about.
Convenience Retailing LLC co-owner Rick Levitan won a 3-1 vote by the Howard County Board of Appeals on Monday night to approve conditional zoning, opening the way for a project that scores of residents have fought against at two other nearby locations. But Levitan, who operates gas station/convenience stores in Owen Brown and Dorsey Hall village centers in Columbia, was happy.
"I'm thrilled with the decision, but I'm exhausted with the process," he said, noting his four years of effort. Levitan said he would wait for the board's written decision before deciding whether to move forward or wait to see if opponents appeal to circuit court. The case reached the Board of Appeals after Levitan won a decision by the county's hearing examiner in December.
Residents who opposed the station site were angry.
"I don't think a gas station belongs there," said Arline Calaby, a Waverly Woods resident who was there for the decision. "If there's going to be one, they should have it on Marriottsville Road."
"I think it's extremely dangerous," said Sara Lenes, another resident at Monday's hearing.
Critics say that allowing a gas station in the village center would draw traffic and strangers into the residential community, creating congestion and danger, especially for seniors who live in an apartment house nearby.
That was a view backed by developers of Waverly Woods last year, when they helped block Levitan's earlier plan to build his station at the other end of the village center. The county zoning board turned down that rezoning request in January 2008. Another proposal years earlier would have put the station close to the Marriottsville Road entrance to Waverly Woods, but the site's proximity to the Colonial-era Waverly Mansion killed the deal.
The 0.91-acre site is nearly four miles from the nearest gas station on U.S. 40. Residents say they do not oppose having a gas station close by, but they don't want one within their community.
"You just don't bring cars, trucks and noisy motorcycles into a residential neighborhood. It will be open from 5 a.m. to midnight," Richard Futrovsky said.
Only one board member sided with them, however. Henry Eigles, a lawyer in private life, argued that the case should go back to county planners for an opinion on whether traffic using the village center's parking lot to access the station would create a safety issue. Although county planners approved the station conceptually, they never addressed that point, he said.
"Traffic going in and out would be using the parking lot as a thoroughfare, creating a hazard," he said.
But other members disagreed.
Chairman Albert J. Hayes said it is not within the Board of Appeals' purview to order county planners to widen their review of the project.
"We have to rely on the technical staff report," he said, arguing that as long as the project meets county standards for parking and other requirements, the board's power is limited.
"Although I certainly sympathize with the neighbors, I think that Convenience Retailing has clearly laid out that it meets all the criteria," said board member Kevin Doyle.
Maurice Simpkins, who missed a July 14 board discussion of the case but said he listened to recordings of the meeting, agreed. He said testimony about fears that the station would draw undesirable people were not supported by facts.
"I heard a lot of emotional testimony about crime from Baltimore, but I didn't see a lot of evidence," he said.
The board voted 3-1 to oppose Eigles' idea of asking the county for more information on traffic, and then voted 3-1 to approve conditional zoning to allow the gas station/convenience store.
Residents have 30 days to appeal.