Most residents of the Wheatfields subdivision near Ellicott City were content to be seen but not heard at a county Planning Board hearing Tuesday night.
But they were seen in a big way, holding up more than 100 handmade green and orange signs each time a witness for developer Robert Moxley made a point with which they disagreed.
"Clearly the highest and best use of the property" is a proposed 400,000-square-foot retail store, testified Robert Kleinpaste, Mr. Moxley's economic expert.
"This is wrong," said the signs.
The developer wants the Howard County Zoning Board to grant general business zoning to his 54-acre Long Gate property between U.S. 29, Route 100, Long Gate Parkway and Route 103. Residents of Wheatfields object because the zoning would clear the way for giant retailers such as Wal-Mart, Pace or Leedmark. ** The property is now zoned for a mix of shops, businesses and, closest to Wheatfields, homes.
More than 200 people attended the third and last night of the hearings on the proposed comprehensive rezoning plan for the eastern portion of Howard, a plan that will serve as a guide for development for the next decade. The proposed comprehensive zoning map submitted by county planners would grant the zoning Mr. Moxley seeks.
The proposed zoning also would designate four major tracts of a new "mixed-use" zoning category, rezone three Ellicott City office-research tracts for apartment use and allow 682 rural acres in Marriottsville and Woodstock to be developed into a Columbia-style village. The largest change would put virtually all land along the Patapsco River, from Woodstock to Elkridge, into two new "residential-environmental development" zoning districts.
The Planning Board will make a recommendation on the zoning plan before County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, hear testimony on it beginning Dec. 15 and 16. Council members' final decision may not come until spring if a second round hearings is needed. Mr. Kleinpaste, who works for the Legg-Mason Realty Group in Baltimore, testified that a large retail store near Wheatfields would generate more than 900 jobs and bring about $300,000 a year into county coffers.
At those assertions, the signs went up: "This is wrong."
After Mr. Moxley, his lawyer, and his three experts spoke, representatives of the Wheatfields community presented their case.
"We have been looking into the issues of increased traffic, increased noise, and increased crime, and we are frightened by what we see," said Dennis Plouff, a resident who is a civil engineer.
He said that allowing the large retail center would be "totally incompatible" with the neighborhood's homes, churches, school and YMCA.
Resident Steve Wolniak assailed Mr. Moxley's main argument for abandoning plans to develop residential property nearest to Wheatfields. Mr. Moxley contends that, because of noise from surrounding roads, county noise regulations would prohibit him from building on most of the property now zoned for residential use.
"The noise restrictions that were designed to protect the citizens of the county are actually penalizing the citizens of Wheatfields," he said.