Howard board, superintendent in legal battle as they run county school system

Columbia Association Board opposes Royal Farms proposal on Snowden River

Columbia Association's Board of Directors came out against a proposed Royal Farms gas station and convenience store on Columbia's Snowden River Parkway in testimony delivered Thursday night to the Howard County Planning Board.

Royal Farms has submitted a site development plan for the businesses, which would be located on a nearly 4-acre lot next to the intersection of Snowden River and Minstrel Way. The gas station and convenience mart would be joined by a Canton Car Wash on the property, according to the plan.

Speaking on behalf of board members, CA President and CEO Milton Matthews said the board had taken the "rather extraordinary action" of opposing the project "because it firmly believes allowing this applicant access to Snowden River Parkway will undermine decades of careful planning."

The development is proposed on a stretch of Snowden River Parkway that is zoned for industrial use. Attorneys representing local business owners – including the owner of an Exxon gas station across the street – have taken issue with the plan, which they say does not have the underlying zoning necessary to allow for a gas station and convenience store.

"We'll have a new gas station and convenience store, but you will have allowed the beginning of the end of this industrial area in violation of the intent of the New Town regulations," said Katherine Taylor, an attorney for the Exxon owner and British American Building, LLC. "These uses that are proposed here are in no way, shape or form intended to serve the industrial park where they sit... they are intended to serve the people who drive by on Snowden River Parkway."

Lawyers for Royal Farms, meanwhile, argue that the gas station and car wash are permitted by right on the property and the convenience store is allowed as an ancillary use. The county's Department of Planning and Zoning agrees, and recommended the project be approved in a technical staff report.

"I'm not sure there's a credible argument that it does not meet the legal requirements," said Tom Coale, an attorney for Royal Farms, said of the project. "This site is going to provide an economic boon for the revitalization of Snowden River Parkway."

CA Board members, according to Matthews, are concerned the Royal Farms would increase traffic along the corridor, creating safety hazards. They also object to the company's request to build a right in/right out access point for the business directly onto the parkway. If approved, it would be the first gas station to obtain direct access onto Snowden River.

"Virtually all of the adjoining parcels would logically desire to have access onto the parkway but they... are restricted. In all fairness, Royal Farms should be subject to the same burden," Matthews said. The project, he added, "is not in any way consistent with the best interests of the community, be it now or in the future."

The Hickory Ridge and Owen Brown village boards also presented testimony in opposition to the project, as did Brian England, owner of British American Building.

The Planning Board will hear more testimony and closing arguments from both sides on Oct. 8.

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