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News Maryland Howard County Columbia

River Hill Garden Center owner pulls rezoning bait-and-switch [Letter]

In 2011, the River Hill Garden Center (Route 108, Clarksville) asked the County Council to rezone from residential (R-20) to business (B-1). The owner asked only for a cafe/deli to take the seasonality out of his business, draw shoppers and help him survive tough economic times.

Local residents opposed, fearing a strip mall, parking lots, bright lights and smelly restaurants right next to their homes. Ditto from the River Hill Village Board, who also cited traffic and safety issues for Route 108, and lack of trust in the owner, who had violated existing zoning regulations. The Council approved the request, seeing it as a minor change to save a local business — but cautioned that they may reconsider the zoning in comprehensive zoning and even down-zone the property if the owner didn't honor his commitments.

On June 18, one day after the Comprehensive Zoning hearing for Clarksville, the owner revealed his true plans for a strip center: a Panera Bread, a Chick-fil-A, a bank, a smaller "boutique garden center" and, possibly, a pharmacy. The outdoor plants would be replaced by parking spaces.

In addition, the owner proposed to tie a new entrance into a traffic light at Sheppard Lane, which already causes long backups on Route 108 since being installed last year. County Council members Watson, Terrasa and Ball were most dismayed by the discrepancy between the proposal and the actual plan and appeared ready to act.

Unfortunately, other Council members did not support the introduction of a late-filed amendment to downgrade the zoning and restore integrity to the zoning process. Bait-and-Switch: 1, County Council: 0.

Rong Guo

Clarksville

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