The encroachment of suburban convenience should stop Routes 144 and 97 in Cooksville, area residents told the Howard County Zoning Board last night.
That rural crossroads could be the home of a small shopping center if the board approves the latest in a string of requests for commercial zoning along Route 97.
About 20 area residents turned out in opposition to the rezoning from rural conservation to general business sought by Cooksville Limited Partnership, which includes Amalia Riggs, a centenarian who owns the 5.8-acre property, and developer Rob Moxley.
"There has to be some oasis from all of this development, and it ought to be Cooksville," said Lyn Randers, who has lived in Cooksville for about 20 years.
The property is on the edge of the 189-acre Riggs farm, the rest of which is being subdivided into 41 1-acre homesites surrounded by agricultural preservation easements.
Residents pointed out that a small shopping center -- the Inwood Village Center -- is being built a mile south on Route 97 at McKendree Road. In a little more than a year, two other properties, one across Route 97 from the Inwood center and the other a half-mile closer to the proposed rezoning, have also received commercial zoning, they noted.
"There's clearly no demand for commercial space in this area," said Seth Harry, an architect who said he has helped plan shopping centers.
But Mr. Moxley said after the meeting that several businesses have expressed interest in the project. He added that arguments that the center is unneeded have come from people who simply don't want their neighborhoods changed, or from potential retail competitors.
The county Department of Planning and Zoning and the county Planning Board recommended against the rezoning. Both said they did not find either of the two legal requirements for a zoning change: a mistake in current zoning or a substantial change in the character of the neighborhood.
Several area residents noted that a shopping center in Lisbon has long sought tenants for an expansion and that one of the other commercial properties on Route 97 had advertised commercial space for several years before finding tenants.
Lyn Randers of Cooksville said the rezoning would "destroy the rural character of this area."
"If we keep giving in to all these requests, we might as well tell our children they can have anything they want," she said. If teen-agers want junk food or videotapes, Ms. Randers said, "all they'll have to do is roll out of bed and walk a few steps and they'll be in a convenience center."
County Council members, sitting as the Zoning Board, plan to decide the case at a work session starting at 7:30 p.m. June 26 in the George Howard county office building in Ellicott City.