Shopping center dispute likely to go to court


The battle over a proposed Bel Air shopping center appears headed for court after a County Council decision aimed at appeasing the developer and nearby residents instead infuriated both sides.

The council, sitting as the Zoning Appeals Board, voted 4-3 Tuesday to allow Baltimore County-based Security Management Corp. to build a shopping center on a 15.8-acre site near Route 22 and Brier Hill Drive.

But council members ordered that the original proposal be scaled down and set other conditions.

The decision prompted the developer's attorney to ridicule the council's "anti-development political

agenda," and both the developer and the residents say they plan to appeal to Circuit Court.

In addition to requiring the reduction of the center from 150,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet, the council also decided that:

* Construction may not begin until Route 22 is widened between Shamrock Road and Route 543.

* A buffer of trees and shrubs must be planted along Route 22 to screen the center from motorists.

* The number of parking spaces must be reduced from the proposed 765 to 400, the minimum required by the county for a 100,000-square-foot center.

Albert J. A. Young, a Bel Air attorney representing Security Management, said the council may have "shot itself in the foot" by adding the conditions approved Tuesday.

"This entire matter is extremely frustrating for my client," Mr. Young said. "He has met every condition suggested during the six public hearings held over a three-month period late last year, even agreeing to pay $200,000 to improve roads. But once again, the council has demonstrated an inability to separate itself from its anti-development political agenda".

People's Counsel Robert F. Kahoe, who represents the residents, said a 100,000-square-foot center is still too large for the area. He also claimed that the additional traffic would further burden Route 22 and that the developer never conducted an adequate market study.

Peter Fagan, executive vice president of Security Management Corp., said that a smaller center is not economically feasible and called most of the council's other conditions "silly."

"Who ever heard of a shopping center being forced to plant trees to hide it from the public?" he asked. "If you were a retailer, would you rent a store no one could see from the road?"

Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, a District C Democrat, introduced the conditions. The council took a 10-minute recess to discuss her motion, then returned to vote.

Council President Jeffrey Wilson and members Susan Heselton and Barry Glassman joined Mrs. Pierno in approving the scaled-down center -- with the conditions. Robert Wagner, Philip Barker and Joanne Parrot cast the dissenting votes.

Mr. Young said the land has been zoned commercial for years. "It's not inconceivable that a facility similar to a Price Club or BJ's Warehouse could locate at that site," he said.

But, Mrs. Pierno said, "All the council is attempting to do is what is good for the entire community. That includes both the residents and developers."

She said that the council is not opposed to development.

She said that the most critical issue was the widening of Route 22.

"Anyone who travels that road from Bel Air to Churchville knows it has reached the critical stage," Mrs. Pierno said. "I believe that problem must be addressed before any more development comes to that area."

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