A restaurant that predates Howard County’s zoning regulations is looking to expand, but its current zoning restricts it from doing so.
Lu & Joe’s Mountain View Inn on Ridge Road in Mount Airy is requesting a zoning change from rural conservation to B-1, a commercial zoning, on its four-acre site.
“After 60 years that it’s continued to be a business on this property, maybe it’s time to consider a business zoning,” attorney Tom Meachum said April 8 on behalf of his client at the Howard County Planning Board’s public hearing at Glenelg High School.
The site of Lu & Joe’s has been a restaurant since the county enacted its zoning regulations in 1948, Meachum said.
There is no other way for the restaurant to expand unless it is rezoned, he said.
Somsak Chanyasulkit, who has owned Lu & Joe’s for 14 years, said he would like to expand the restaurant’s dining area from 78 seats to 160 and enlarge the kitchen area to help alleviate the waiting time on weekends.
“The customers who come in have been waiting too long,” he said.
The property is currently zoned rural conservation with a nonconforming use for the restaurant and adjoining liquor store. The nonconforming use “grandfathered” the restaurant into the county’s zoning regulations, when surrounding properties were zoned rural conservation, according to Meachum.
The restaurant is barely a half-mile from the Howard and Carroll county line.
The county’s Department of Planning and Zoning has recommended denying the request because the property is not a commercial area.
“There’s no guarantee that once it’s rezoned it’s going to stay a restaurant,” said Marsha McLaughlin, director of Planning and Zoning. “It could turn into a matter of other retail uses.”
McLaughlin said her department is “cautious” to zone a property commercial that is surrounded by residential properties. She expects the Planning Board to have a “long discussion” on the request.
More than 60 county residents and attorneys testified on zoning requests during the four-hour hearing at Glenelg High School. The hearing was the second lengthy hearing held by the Planning Board as the five-member board considers comprehensive zoning requests.
Testimony for and against Lu & Joe’s expansion was presented at the hearing.
Monrovia resident Stephanie Smith said she and her husband enjoy taking the family out for dinner at Lu & Joe’s, but reservations are hard to make because of its popularity.
“Any expansion to the dining room, kitchen or the addition of a crab room would have a positive impact on the restaurant and to the customer,” Smith said.
But Mount Airy resident Randolph Wilkins said he opposed the restaurant expansion because of previous neighborhood issues with Lu & Joe’s.
He said the neighborhood has filed sanitation complaints against the restaurant’s previous owners with the Health Department and the site is already undersized for a business.
“Expansion would only aggravate the situation,” Wilkins said.
The comprehensive zoning process, which follows every update of the county's general plan, offers the county an opportunity to begin implementing the vision laid out in the general plan, PlanHoward 2030, while allowing the county to review its zoning regulations and citizens to submit zoning requests.
If approved in comprehensive zoning, any plans for an expansion would still require a public hearing because the Liquor Board would have to approve the expansion of a licensed premises.
The Planning Board will host a third and final hearing Thursday, April 8, at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City for residents who have signed up, but not yet had the opportunity to testify. The board is expected to make its recommendations to the County Council by the end of May, according to McLaughlin.