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Shopping center's neighbors are finally getting out Residents won zoning change so they can sell their homes


Most zoning stories are about homeowners battling to protect their neighborhoods from unwanted encroachments by commercial development.

Not this one.

Carl M. Lambert and some of his neighbors have come to the end of their 11-year fight over Deneison Street. Having failed to preserve the livability of their street, they have finally won a zoning change that will allow their homes to be converted into offices so they can sell out and leave.

The pretty, tree-lined street and its modest, well-tended homes abut the rear of the bustling Padonia Village Shopping Center at York and Padonia roads in Timonium. And what seems quiet and pleasant enough by day, residents say, becomes a noisy, sleepless nightmare after dark.

If it's not the late-night truck deliveries to the Mars food store, or the all-night trash trucks servicing commercial Dumpsters, it's the thumping rock 'n' roll at Christopher's nightclub and the carousing of its patrons in the rear parking lot.

"Who in his right mind would want to live in these sordid conditions?" Mr. Lambert asked.

Unable to find buyers, some Deneison Street property owners have been asking the county since 1984 to change their zoning from residential to ROA. That would allow conversion of the houses into offices and give owners a broader market in which to sell.

On Thursday night the council finally rezoned the street at the request of 4th District Councilman Douglas B. Riley.

"It's just a shame," said George Sawyer, 38, who has lived on Deneison Street for 13 years. "I've seen the transition of a nice neighborhood into a war zone."

With the zoning relief finally in hand, he said, "I'll get a 'For Sale' sign and get the hell out of here."

For Carl Lambert down the street, the zoning change is a bittersweet victory. "I built this house, and I put a lot of time into it," he said. "If I could raise it up and take it over the hill I'd be very pleased with it."

But the place has become unlivable, said the 76-year-old Mr. Lambert.

"I'm no youngster," he declared. "I would like to have a couple of years of peace somewhere."

It wasn't always like this.

A. David Howard, 68, moved into the first house on Deneison Street in 1946. What is now Padonia Road and the Padonia Village Shopping Center was at that time woods, fields and wetlands, he said. And a stream ran through it.

"It was a good place to raise kids," he said.

But when the shopping center was built around 1970, part of its rear lot backed all the way up to the north side of Deneison Street. "And it's been hell ever since," Mr. Howard said.

Mr. Sawyer said that even when he bought his house 13 years ago, Deneison Street was still "a quaint, nice, quiet little neighborhood. The shopping center used to be a very quiet place. It wasn't bad at all."

But in the early 1980s, he said, Mars took over the center's vacant supermarket, and Christopher's replaced the Flaming Pit restaurant at the opposite end of the complex.

"It was good for the shopping center, but not for us," Mr. Sawyer said. Commercial success brought residential disaster.

For years, Deneison Street fought back.

Mr. Lambert, in particular, made it a personal mission, a defensive battle waged with his pen. Over 11 years he amassed boxes of letters and press clippings, and a heartfelt contempt for county bureaucrats and politicians who, he says, failed his neighborhood.

He photographed the bottles and cans strewn across the parking lot and onto their street, and the fence sections battered down by cars.

He and his neighbors spent sleepless nights listening to the trucks, the crash of Dumpsters and the smashing of bottles. They called police when young people fought, drank or raced their cars in the parking lot. They complained to the county liquor authorities and challenged the nightclub's zoning. But the problems remained.

Their property values stagnated at best.

"I couldn't sell this house as a residence," said Mr. Sawyer. "Nobody's going to want the problems and headaches I've got."

In 1988, the county council agreed to rezone the three homes on the north side of Deneison Street for offices, but it left six homes on the south side residential.

That was when Mr. Howard, who had opposed rezoning in the hope he could somehow reclaim the peace and quiet he remembered on Deneison Street, gave up.

"I said, 'Oh, hell, it's no good to me now,'" he said. He then joined Mr. Lambert, Mr. Sawyer and one other neighbor in seeking rezoning for their side of the street. Owners of the other two homes on the street declined to join the rezoning effort this year, but did not actively oppose it.

To Mr. Lambert, the original sin was the county's decision 20 years ago to jam a shopping center up against a residential street without some intervening buffer zone.

"I'm tired of being the buffer," he said.

Councilman Riley agreed. "Nowadays, the planning office takes a much more active role" in assuring that residential areas are shielded somehow from the full impact of such commercial activity, he said.

The concern now, he said, is that "once Deneison Street goes, there will be a lot more pressure on the next street down."

That's why several residents there, on Main Boulevard a block south, opposed the rezoning on Deneison, he said.

But Mr. Riley said Main Boulevard won't be as vulnerable.

There are deep rear yards separating the two streets, and no connecting street between them. Also, the houses on Deneison cannot be substantially changed or demolished under the new ROA zoning.

In the end, he decided, "to condemn the people on Deneison Street to have to live across from an all-night nightclub . . . seems to me to be a condemnation we ought not to allow."

For Mr. Lambert, the rezoning is a kind of deliverance.

Building his own house and raising his children there was his "ultimate dream," he said. But battling to protect it "takes constant perseverance, which I'm tired of. I'm sick to death of it. I've had enough."

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