Normandy Shopping Center (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
Howard County's first suburban shopping center got a weak recommendation for rezoning by the county planning board Thursday night, a move that could help pave the way for a major redevelopment into a new-generation mixed-use project.
If the county zoning board agrees with the 3-2 planning board vote, the 25-acre Normandy Shopping Center, a 1961 precursor of suburban commercialism along U.S. 40 in Ellicott City, would be reborn with about 200 apartments, stores and offices in a "main street" configuration in the next few years.
The planning board decision was technically difficult for the members, though all seemed to favor the redevelopment idea, and the use of a Traditional Neighborhood Center zone applied over the current business zoning. County planning director Marsha McLaughlin said that zoning was designed nearly a decade ago with redevelopment of Normandy and other older shopping centers in mind.
But in 2004, an election year, the County Council rejected the zone during comprehensive rezoning of the entire county because of fears that too many apartments might be built. Now, to legally justify the change, the board had to find a mistake in that earlier decision.
"I think it would be very much a shame if it isn't corrected now," McLaughlin told the board members before their vote. If the rezoning is defeated now, McLaughlin said, the next comprehensive rezoning of the entire county probably won't occur for three years, leaving the half-century-old center to deteriorate further.
Still, the strongest legal "mistake" board members found was that seven years ago, council members didn't know the center's anchor supermarket was about to close, followed by other, smaller tenants.
"This is a blight over there. It needs help," said board member Tammy Citaramanis. "It should have gone through then."
But board chairwoman Linda A. Dombrowski disagreed. "Are the mistakes enough to swing it back the other way? No." she said.
Paul Yelder agreed. "I still think that it [TNC zoning] makes all the sense in the world, Do I think the council made a mistake in making its decision? No." he said.
"I agree the TNC [zone] really does fit there, but the evidence for mistake is kinda thin," said Josh Tzuker, the board's newest member.
Dombrowski and Yelder voted against recommending the zoning change, but were outnumbered by Tzuker, Citaramanis and David Grabowski. The zoning board is composed of the five County Council members, none of whom were in office in 2004.
The plan — proposed by members of the family that built the center — would build offices above stores in one- and two-story buildings with apartments in four-story structures at the back of the site, near Rogers Avenue. Parking for residents would be in garages hidden by surrounding apartments
The concept is one that county planners are encouraging as Smart Growth and a way to change outdated commercial complexes on U.S. 40 to position them for the future.
The row of stores containing the closed supermarket would likely be demolished first, and current tenants who remain in the center could move to the new buildings that replace it before any other older structures are destroyed.
James R. "Rob" Moxley, a principal in the redevelopment plan, attended the board meeting and said he is pleased with the recommendation. "They listened to our case and felt it was a mistake," he said. More important, he said, was the board members' endorsement of the redevelopment idea.
But not everyone was happy.
Lisa Markovitz, 46, a 20-year resident of Normandy Drive just east of the center, said she'd rather the county wait until the next comprehensive rezoning cycle, when the new County Council can consider the plan more carefully and perhaps include some guarantees for residents.
"Of course, we don't want to see blight and vacancies," she said, but she also doesn't want to see large apartment buildings near her single-family-home community.