Protest picnic at Wheatfields draws dozens Foes of zoning proposal plan strategy

Also in Monday's Howard section, the name of Joseph G. Annelli was misspelled.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.


Braving bitter winds and occasional snow flurries, nearly 100 residents of the Wheatfields subdivision gathered on the edge of a barren field yesterday for -- of all things -- a picnic.

But the purpose was more political than social. The site: purely symbolic.


The tract of tangled brush and weeds lies on the edge of the Wheatfields. Under a proposed zoning change in Howard County, it might soon become the site for a warehouse-sized discount store such as Wal-Mart.

Residents met yesterday to prepare to fight the change -- part of a proposed comprehensive rezoning plan for the eastern part of Howard. The County Planning Board will begin the first of three public hearings on the plan at 7:30 tomorrow night.

"You gotta be there," community activist Mark Muedeking told ++ the crowd yesterday. "It's absolutely crucial. . . ."

The field lies just across Long Gate Parkway from a group of single-family homes that line the edge of the Wheatfields. Nearby is a church, a school and a YMCA. Under the current zoning, the property could be host to a shopping center, town houses and local businesses.

The residents say they don't mind some commercial development on the 52-acre parcel, as long as it is on a reasonable scale and geared toward the local community.

They oppose a large discount store because they say it would draw strangers from other counties and damage the community's ambience. An influx of outsiders would increase traffic as well as the risk of crime, they say. "If they were building a community shopping center, we'd be behind it," Mr. Muedeking said.

Yesterday's picnic typified the Howard County style of public dissent -- civil, controlled and brimming with family values.

Residents of the predominantly white-collar community arrived pushing strollers, carrying children and walking dogs. As community leaders gathered petitions, neighbors ate hot dogs cooked over propane grills and drank cups of hot coffee while their children played.


At one table, people signed up to baby-sit for residents who want to attend tomorrow's meeting; others signed up to car pool. On a hillside, large signs reminded people to sign up to testify at the hearings and not repeat points made by previous speakers.

Wearing bright, pink roller skates and a matching overcoat, 12-year-old Toni Clements shared her sentiments on the issue.

"I don't really think they should build it," she said. "Now, there's going to be so much traffic. It's going to be just like [U.S.] 29. It probably won't be safe for kids to play."

Many residents are angry because they bought homes in the subdivision with the understanding that the neighboring property would not permit intense development. Homes in the Wheatfields list from $160,000 to $230,000.

"They pulled this after we got here," said Joseph G. Anaelli.

Mr. Anaelli is a paraplegic and drives a motorized scooter. He also fears the increased traffic, because he sometimes has to use the streets to move about.


The county has included the proposed zoning change at the request of the property owner, Robert R. Moxley. Marsha McLaughlin, the county's deputy director of planning and zoning, has tried to justify the change, saying a discount store could generate more jobs for the county. But none of the residents in attendance yesterday said they could see the logic. Don Forgione pointed out that the majority of positions at a discount store probably pay no more than $5 an hour. "The idea that they're doing it for jobs is laughable," he said.

For the record