Board postpones vote on plan to build gas station


After three hours of testimony, members of the Howard County Board of Appeals postponed their vote last night on plans by Exxon Corp. to build a gas station in North Laurel -- a proposal residents complain will increase traffic problems at an already dangerous intersection.

Board members expect to vote on the special exception and the variances Exxon needs during their August work session. Also next month, the board said, it would hear from several opponents of the gas station -- mostly North Laurel residents -- who were unable to testify during last night's public hearing because time ran out.

But their testimony is likely to echo the position stated by community leader Tom Flynn, vice president of the North Laurel Civic Association, who told the board that the intersection of All Saints Road and Route 216 is a dangerous location for a business that would attract a lot of traffic.

"That intersection is a very hazardous one," Mr. Flynn said, pointing to a county traffic report that listed All Saints Road and Route 216 among the 10 worst intersections in Howard County.

"It's not that we're opposed to having anything on that site," he told the board. "But why not wait until the intersection is improved. When the improvements are made, then let's come back and talk."

Exxon wants to build a gas station with a convenience store and a carwash on a 1.1-acre parcel -- part of which the oil company owns, and the remainder of which it is purchasing from Dr. Mirza Baig of Burtonsville. Next to the proposed gas station, the McDonald's chain wants to build a restaurant and has contracted with Dr. Baig for land to start that project.

The parcel where McDonald's wants to build already is zoned for a fast-food restaurant. But Exxon needed a special exception from the county to build its station, carwash and Tiger Mart.

David Straub, a spokesman for Exxon, said a study of the xTC community showed there was a demand for more gas stations. Based on Exxon's calculations, its station would attract about 1,900 regular customers the first year. Typically, he said, "an excellent store count" is 1,200 to 1,400 cars a store.

"The demographics at this location are excellent," Mr. Straub told the board.

The location is particularly attractive for a fast-food restaurant because others are a mile or more outside the community, along U.S. 1, Dr. Baig said. And Crown is now the only gas station in the community, which has two small strip malls.

Dr. Baig said the proposed Exxon station would give Crown competition and lower gas prices.

"This would be good for the people who live in that area," said Dr. Baig, a family doctor who says many of his patients are North Laurel residents. "It is convenient for the people who live there."

But members of the North Laurel Civic Association disagree. They have long complained about traffic problems in rapidly growing North Laurel Park.

The intersection of All Saints Road and Route 216 regularly is identified as a high accident location. The State Highway Administration says any intersection with 15 or more accidents during a 12-month period is considered a high-accident location.

During the first six months of this year, Howard County police responded to 11 accidents at that intersection.

Dr. Baig, however, insists that the two businesses would not add to traffic snarls in the community. "You're not going to generate more traffic because you're going to get the people who live there. It's for the local residents," he said.

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