An amended zoning regulation before the County Council could give the redeveloper of Ellicott City's Normandy Shopping Center the opportunity to bypass revitalizing existing buildings, according to some nearby residents.
Normandy Venture Limited Partnership wants to redevelop the county's oldest shopping center with a 274-unit apartment complex and garage, and office and retail space.
The bill before the Council would amend the Traditional Neighborhood Center (TNC) zoning, allowing for taller buildings with reduced setbacks and reducing the amount of commercial space a developer is required to build in relation to residential space. The council is expected to vote on the bill March 4.
Among the many amendments in the bill, the property owners want to increase the height of the garage to be 65-feet with a 75-foot setback. The TNC zoning overlay currently allows buildings of 55-feet with a 100-foot setback.
Some in the Normandy community believe this is an open invitation to build an apartment complex while not improving the commercial landscape.
"I absolutely believe they will ignore the existing commercial space," said Lisa Markovitz, president of the Normandy Heights Improvement Association.
Cathy Hudson, president of the Howard County Citizens Association, said the association is concerned the amended regulation doesn't offer "sufficient leverage" requiring developers to redevelop the existing commercial space.
"It seems more lucrative for the developer," she said.
However, Rob Moxley, Vice President of Normandy Venture Corporation, said existing buildings are "vital" to the future of Normandy.
"I've heard the stories out there and they are completely false, made up and untrue," he said.
Moxley said plans are to demolish the shopping center, which was once anchored by a Safeway. Currently, two nearby buildings in the shopping center are undergoing a $2.5 million renovation, according to Moxley.
The (TNC) zoning overlay was created during comprehensive rezoning in 2003 and is intended to entice developers to build centers with a mix of retail, service, office and residential buildings along Route 40.
Normandy is the first property in the county to be designated this zoning. The county Zoning Board already has granted the TNC zoning twice, but each time it has been appealed by area residents, some of whom are concerned that the apartment development could bring more crime and congestion.
Currently, the zoning appeal is before the Court of Special Appeals.
The Howard County Planning Board in December unanimously approved the proposed zoning amendment.
Hudson also argues that a zoning change such as this should take place during comprehensive rezoning, not a month before it begins.
"That's just not good planning," she said.
Diane Butler, president of the St. John's Community Association, said zoning should not be about "cramming apartments into a tiny space" and leaving residents with too much traffic.
She is concerned the zoning will be granted in other areas along Route 40, leading to more high-density apartment complexes near single family homes.
"It's not beneficial to any of the neighborhoods along Route 40; it's not beneficial to the county," she said.
For Markovitz, the proposed amendment isn't just about the possibility that developers might ignore redeveloping the existing shopping center.
It's that a dumpster or electrical transformer could be 30-feet from her property line under the amended zoning.
"Could you imagine why I don't want that?" she said.