New projects transform old commercial uses

Decades-old tavern and motels to go

May 06, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

Two small zoning regulation changes approved by the Howard County Council on Monday night will help advance replacement of older businesses along the county's two major commercial corridors.

One change would move along plans for a small mixed-use project to replace the half-century-old Forest Motel, now closed, and the still-operating diner next to it on U.S. 40 in western Ellicott City. The other would make it easier to replace an equally venerable U.S. 1 tavern and former motel with two office buildings called Montevideo Crossing that would also help solve a vexing traffic problem in Jessup.

The zoning change to replace the Forest Motel with a project called Forest Green, was approved unanimously, but council Chairwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, voted against the changes for the U.S. 1 project.

"I just wasn't completely comfortable with it," Watson said later, adding that she's leery of changing regulations for an entire zone to help one property without knowing how it might affect others.

East Columbia Democrat Calvin Ball, who represents Jessup, said he supported the project because "it helps move forward the revitalization and redevelopment along [U.S.] 1." The new buildings, he said, "not only make it more attractive, but safer and pedestrian-friendly."

Watson remained cautious on the Forest Green project, too, though she did vote for the regulation change. "I don't think the plan is completely finished yet," she said, suggesting that the developers continue to work with the community. "I think we need to see redevelopment as long as it is reasonably intense and attractive," she said.

The Montevideo Crossing project would replace the 47-year-old Three 9's Tavern and an old motel next door with two new office/retail buildings with about 52,000 square feet. If built, the project would also move Montevideo Road from the north to the south side of the new center, aligning the road's intersection with U.S. 1 with Port Capital Drive on the highway's west side. The two intersections are now one block apart, making turns more hazardous and slowing traffic. The county government also bought 3 acres of the 7-acre parcel assembled by developer Patrick McCuan to use with other land for a new fire station.

McCuan's buildings would sit close to U.S. 1, with parking behind the structures and sidewalks along the highway. The zoning regulation changes would allow the buildings to be closer to the road and also allow two drive-through lanes for a bank and one for a fast-food restaurant, as long as they would not be visible from the highway. Offices would occupy the buildings' upper floors, and the two buildings would be separated by a small courtyard.

"This will allow the development of that entire area of U.S. 1," because of the realignment of the Montevideo intersection, McCuan told the council during the public hearing April 19. He called the Three 9's an "unsightly" bar, and said if all goes as expected, his project could be under construction in November.

"It's an exciting development," McCuan told the council.

The proposed Forest Green development would, if built, mix about 30 second-floor apartments with stores and offices in a 50,000- to 60,000-square-foot building on the 5-acre Forest Diner property. It is the type of new project that county planners envision replacing decades-old shopping centers and commercial buildings as the "Main Street"-style concept picks up speed.

"It would make a very critical portion of the Forest Venture project to be approvable by conditional use," said Sang Oh, the attorney representing a group of investors that includes attorney Richard B. Talkin, builder Jared Spahn and Dr. Bruce Taylor, whose family owned the former Taylor Manor Hospital.

The change approved by the council would allow residential units to match the number of square feet used for commercial space, instead of being tied to the number of distinct businesses in a project. That would provide more flexibility, proponents say. As a compromise, the council required a conditional-use approval, however, which gives residents near any proposed mixed-use project a chance to testify at a public hearing.

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