A rural crossroads in Cooksville could be the home of a small shopping center if the county Zoning Board approves the latest in a string of requests for commercial zoning along Route 97.
Cooksville Limited Partnership -- which includes Amalia Riggs, who owns the 5.8-acre property, and developer Rob Moxley -- proposes building a small "convenience center" at Routes 97 and 144.
The Riggs property's location, near the Route 97 exit from Interstate 70, "makes it a logical candidate for some type of commercial use," Mr. Moxley said.
That use would likely include a convenience store and several small retailers or service providers, although the partnership has yet to talk to any prospective tenants, Mr. Moxley said.
Could set precedent
The rezoning request doesn't sit well with some local property owners, who say there is already too much commercial zoning in the area. Adding to the commercial development could set a precedent leading to Route 97 becoming an unwanted shopping strip, they say.
If the land-use petition is granted, it would be the third commercial rezoning for shopping areas along Route 97 in little more than a year -- posing the prospect of too much competition among prospective shop owners.
In February 1994, County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, voted to approve 14 acres of rural business zoning for a small gas station and store about a half-mile south of Route 144. In September, they approved 5.5 acres for general business zoning at the corner of Carr's Mill Road in Glenwood -- about a mile south of Route 144.
"It's going to be like Route 40," predicted Ronald Eyre, co-owner of Eyre's Bus Service in Glenelg. He and his brother, Thomas, own a nearby commercially zoned parcel at Route 97 and McKendree Road as well as two small shopping centers in Glenelg and Mount Airy.
Ronald Eyre, who testified against the rezoning of the Carr's Mill Road site, known as the Allen property, said he believes the area lacks demand for additional commercial development.
The Eyres bought their commercial property on Route 97 -- across from the Allen property -- five years ago. But they have had to wait through three years of a recessionary business climate before finding enough tenants to justify financing for the 22,400-square-foot shopping center they plan to build.
With half the center pre-leased, the Eyres plan to begin construction in mid-April. The center, to be called the Inwood Village Center, will include a convenience store, health clinic, carryout restaurant, liquor store and hair salon.
But Mr. Moxley said the center he is proposing is far enough from the Eyre and Allen properties in Glenwood and is different from the other Cooksville property on Route 97 in its type of commercial land use.
One business owner who has been taking the pulse of the business potential at Routes 144 and 97 over the past three years is John Hopkins, who co-owns the Cooksville Carryout and Liquors with Josephine Fullerton. The restaurant-bar-package store is across Route 144 from the proposed shopping site.
With shopping centers operating in West Friendship and Lisbon and three other retail sites in the works in Cooksville and Glenwood, Mr. Hopkins doubts the need for more commercial property.
'Not that much demand'
"There's just not that much demand out there. I certainly don't think it would be feasible," he said.
He conceded that because of nearby Interstate 70 and a stream of commuters from Carroll County who cut through on Route 97, there is a "tremendous amount of traffic."
"But most of the traffic is going to and from work, and they do their shopping at home or at work," said Mr. Hopkins, who described the success of his business as "fair."
A handful of property owners sought commercial zoning along Route 97 during the 1992 comprehensive rezoning of the western county, but the Zoning Board turned most of them down.
So far, all who have come back to seek rezonings individually -- using the very different piecemeal rezoning process -- have had success.
Under the piecemeal process, land owners or potential landowners must either prove that the zoning on their property was mistakenly designated during the 1992 comprehensive rezoning or that the character of a neighborhood has substantially changed since that 1992 process.
Because Zoning Board rules prohibit members from speaking about pending cases, County Council Chairman Charles C. Feaga, a board member, declined to comment on the Cooksville rezoning request.
Ronald Eyre fears that last fall's rezoning of the Allen property to general business will set the precedent needed to meet the legal test for a substantial change. "From Union Chapel Road all the way up to 144, it could all become commercial," he said. After last year's rezonings, "the county's going to be inundated with commercial [rezoning] requests" for the area, he said.