Citing traffic, safety and long-term planning concerns, Howard County's Planning Board voted Thursday night to deny a development proposal for a Royal Farms gas station and convenience store in an industrial area along Snowden River Parkway in Columbia.
The long-debated request from the Maryland-based chain to build a 20-pump fueling station, a 3,500-square-foot convenience mart and a Canton Car Wash on a 3.8-acre site near the intersection of Snowden River and Minstrel Way drew staunch opposition from local business owners and some community members, who argued the development violated zoning requirements for the industrial park and would increase traffic on an already congested road.
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.
Columbia Association, the homeowners' association that represents Columbia's 10 villages, also came out against the proposal. In testimony at the Planning Board's last hearing, in mid-September, CA President Milton Matthews said the organization's board "firmly believes allowing this applicant access to Snowden River Parkway will undermine decades of careful planning."
Representatives of Royal Farms argued that the business would encourage revitalization along the corridor and help reduce Columbia's gas prices, which a 2014 study commissioned by the company found were higher than elsewhere in Maryland.
In a 4-1 vote Oct. 8, the Planning Board decided to side with community concerns about safety along the parkway.
Board Chairman Josh Tzuker said he had doubts about traffic flow, noting two expert witnesses called in by the groups opposed to the project who testified the increased traffic – and a controversial right in/right out access point feeding directly onto Snowden River – would create dangerous conditions.
A task force examining the future of fueling stations in Howard County has recommended that new stations pass a needs assessment and adhere to a stricter set of health, safety and environmental guidelines before receiving approval, according to a report submitted to the County Council.
Santos drew an analogy to the Exxon on the corner of Little Patuxent Parkway and Sterrett Place near where he lives in Columbia, which is also located along a busy road and has a direct access point onto a parkway.
"I have to say, I've never once heard that if Exxon at Sterrett Place was gone, traffic would be easier," Santos said.
The Columbia Association Board of Directors voted last week to testify against Royal Farms' special request to erect a 15-foot high digital sign displaying gas prices along Snowden River Parkway in Columbia; saying the sign would be out of character for the community.
Board member Phil Engelke, an architect, focused on future plans for the parkway. He noted planners are trying to move away from highways punctuated by access points for each individual business, as is the case along Route 40 and Route 1. Allowing an access point directly onto Snowden River – which only one business, a Wegmans grocery store, has obtained – "is not a very progressive solution to a very difficult problem," he said.
An attorney for Royal Farms, Sang Oh, declined to comment on the Planning Board's decision.