Debate over Royal Farms access to Snowden River continues

The dispute over whether gas station-and-convenience store chain Royal Farms should be allowed to have direct access to Columbia's Snowden River Parkway continued Monday before Howard County's hearing examiner.

Arguments centered on whether nearby businesses located along the Snowden River corridor have the right to challenge a Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning waiver allowing Royal Farms to build access points that would make it possible for customers to take a right turn into the gas station from Snowden River and a right back out onto the parkway when they are done pumping gas.


If allowed, the configuration would be the first of its kind along the Snowden River corridor, where travelers have traditionally had to turn onto side roads in order to access businesses.

To challenge DPZ's ruling, the business owners have to gain legal standing by proving that they would be aggrieved by the new Royal Farms access points.

Brian England, the owner of British American Auto Care, a car repair shop about a quarter mile from the proposed Royal Farms site, said he was concerned about traffic.

"The biggest thing is it's going to change the whole dynamics of my traffic flow," he told Hearing Examiner Michele LeFaivre.

Amran Pasha, who owns an Exxon station across the street from the Royal Farms site, worried that customers leaving the Royal Farms site would use the right-out access point onto Snowden River and then cut across three lanes of traffic in order to make a U-turn and head west.

"What we're creating is a very dangerous environment where we're going to have a lot more accidents at that intersection [at Minstrel Way and Snowden River Parkway]," Pasha said.

Royal Farms lawyer Sang Oh rejected the concerns about traffic and accused England and Pasha of being more concerned with the "competition aspect" of a new gas station on the corridor.

Direct access onto Snowden River, he argued, "would actually help the intersection."

Oh called two expert witnesses, commercial property appraiser Christopher Rosata and traffic engineer Mickey Cornelius, who testified that they did not believe that granting Royal Farms  direct access onto the parkway would either diminish surrounding property values or worsen traffic.

Cornelius rebutted Pasha's concerns about motorists making U-turns, arguing that "people don't typically put themselves in a potisoin where they have to cross a bunch of lanes to make a U-turn when they have access to a signalized intersection."

Katherine Taylor, the attorney representing Pasha and England, rejected Rosata and Cornelius' testimony as being uninformed about the particular qualities of her clients' properties.

"A traffic engineer who has not conducted a study, who is not familiar with the particular intersection... is no more able to present qualified testimony... than the owner himself, who is familiar with that stretch of roadway because he drives there everyday," she said. "Likewise, regarding the value of the property, Mr. Pasha, as an owner, is just as qualified as an appraiser who has not conducted an appraisal to testify to an effect on his property value."

LeFaivre declined to rule from the bench, but said she hoped to hand down an opinion within 30 days.