Fears of extraordinary traffic congestion at Beulah Drive and Foothill Boulevard after Henry's Market takes over the former Sport Chalet store there turned what might have been a routine zoning hearing Monday night into an impromptu City Council traffic-engineering session.
In the end, city leaders, the project's architect and concerned neighbors all agreed that Beulah should be widened to include northbound left- and right-turn lanes onto Foothill, taking pressure off what threatened to become a bottleneck intersection after Henry's opens in mid-2011.
The outpouring of concern by more than a dozen nearby homeowners came forward only after members of the Planning Commission on Nov. 9 approved a conditional-use permit for the grocery store to occupy the former retail location.
Along with cementing numerous architectural enhancements to the aging structure, the commission's approval eliminated the former Sport Chalet parking lot's Foothill entrance in favor of directing all store traffic through a driveway that opens onto Beulah.
Neighbors worried that without two northbound lanes on Beulah, cars exiting Henry's toward Foothill could back traffic up for a block into their neighborhood.
"As of now, I'm waiting five minutes at that signal to go left or right on Foothill," complained Patricia Anderson (no relation to Chamber of Commerce President Pat Anderson), one of several speakers pushing for dual northbound lanes.
Though no appeal of the Planning Commission's decision was filed, residents got the chance to voice concerns Monday night as council members acted to lift a ban on large grocers from operating near Town Center, a prohibition enacted 10 years ago amid fears that existing grocery stores might abandon locations to the east.
City Council members ordered Henry's to give up any right-of-way deemed necessary to widen the street — though the four to six feet required does not surpass city-controlled tree-lawn area — but will share the costs of street widening with the developer.
"We want happy neighbors," said project architect James Cary. "It's to our benefit too to get people in and out of there."
Many who voiced concern about traffic congestion also welcomed the opening of Henry's Market and cheered its planned improvements to the long-empty location.
"All the issues that could annoy or irritate the neighbors should be properly addressed, but I didn't hear any of the neighbors say 'I don't want Henry's,'" said Mayor Donald Voss. "Compliments on a beautiful building that's going to replace probably the ugliest building in town."
In granting the zoning change, council members also expanded conditions related to noise and deliveries — an unusual move, considering such issues typically fall within the scope of conditional-use-permit hearings.
Because the Planning Commission had already granted the market's permit and that permit was not appealed, the council's zoning approval is contingent on fulfillment of the new traffic and noise requirements.
Councilman Stephen Del Guercio said that because residents did not previously voice concerns, the Planning Commission acted correctly to approve Henry's conditional-use permit. While commissioners would have been able to recommend street improvements, he said, enacting such a requirement would have still required council approval.
For all the last-minute decision-making, Councilman Greg Brown also voiced confidence in the city's oversight mechanisms.
"This kind of thing generally happens when people become more engaged as a process moves along," he said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun