Saying that farming is no longer self-sustaining in Howard County, a Cooksville family is seeking rezoning for a small convenience center and a gas station on part of their property.
"Basically, this store is going to provide for the people, but it will also pay for what farming doesn't pay for anymore, like diesel fuel, wear and tear on tractors and machinery, labor," said Chip Ridgely, 27, son of co-owner A. Brice Ridgely. "A lot of the little things cost a lot more than what people think it is to farm."
Brice Ridgely and the property's other owners, Mary Anne, Stephen and William Ridgely, petitioned to change 13.9 acres of their land on the east side of Route 97 from rural conservation to rural business, a "floating" zoning category created in the 1992 comprehensive rezoning of western Howard.
The category is floating because it can be applied wherever County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, deem appropriate. For a traditional, nonfloating zoning change, a land owner must prove that the character of the neighborhood has changed or that the existing zoning was a mistake.
There is no rural business zoning in the county.
The county Planning Board will consider the rezoning at 10 a.m. on Dec. 9 and make a recommendation to the Zoning Board, which must schedule a hearing on the proposal.
Chip Ridgely said the family, which has farmed in Cooksville since the 1940s, has been selling sweet corn and other produce from a stand by the side of Route 97 for about 20 years and would probably continue to do that if the center is developed.
The center would probably consist of a 2,000 square-foot gas station and a convenience store in a 6,000-square-foot retail building. The building, and a companion 3,000 square-foot building could also house a deli, flower shop, video store or bank, Chip Ridgely said.
The center's main component would be the gas station, however.
"We have a few offers from gas stations, but I think we're going to stay independent for now," he said. "We have lots of members in our family," who could operate the station, he said.
The family will also continue to raise beef cattle on the nearly 200 acres, now in the county's agricultural preservation program, that would remain of their farm.
Plans for the center concern Ronald L. and J. Thomas Eyre, who own the Glenelg-based Eyre Bus Service and have their own retail center planned about a mile south at Route 97 and McKendree Road in Inwood.
The Eyres, who have proper zoning and have obtained site-plan approval from county planners, have been waiting three years for enough interest in the center to justify building it.
"It would definitely be a negative effect," Thomas Eyre said of having two retail centers so close to each other.
"Why should there be two banks, or two restaurants in an area that's not heavily populated?"
Chip Ridgely said that the area was growing so fast, and that Route 97 gets so much traffic that there would be plenty of business for both projects.