If last night's public hearing before the Westminster City Council had been a referendum on Stanley H. "Jack" Tevis' plans for a gas station and small grocery store, Mr. Tevis would have won.
Several speakers pointed out that the hearing was supposed to be about a zoning text amendment that would bar certain types of businesses from coming into Westminster's central business district.
But the timing of Mr. Tevis' proposal for the Farmers Supply Co. property -- and the fact that gas stations are on the list of businesses proposed for exclusion -- made it the focus of the two-hour hearing.
Some speakers saw the potential impact on Mr. Tevis' plan as an example of hostility that has given Maryland a reputation as unfriendly to business.
Others countered that although Mr. Tevis, president of Tevis Oil Inc., is a local business owner with a good reputation, the issue is whether downtown Westminster will lure small shops and become a pedestrian-friendly destination for shoppers and strollers.
Last night, 17 people spoke in favor of regulations that would allow the Tevis project, and 12 spoke out in favor of the zoning change that would prohibit the project.
The council plans to debate the public's comments at a work session at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall, and vote on the proposed zoning changes at its Sept. 25 meeting.
"Where can you get a quart of milk or a loaf of bread in downtown Westminster?" said William B. Dulany, trustee for Farmers Supply stockholders. He said antique stores would bring in "a few tourists" but Tevis businesses "would bring in all kinds of people."
Local architect Christopher Batten said he had nothing against gas stations, "but I really do think downtown Westminster is not the right place for a gas station."
The zoning text amendment would ban new businesses such as package goods stores, auto sales and services, adult entertainment centers, golf driving ranges, funeral homes and gas stations from the central business core. Those businesses would be allowed outside the immediate downtown area.
Westminster attorney Robert H. Lennon told the council, "How can a business person, an investor, have any confidence in downtown when the [Farmers Supply] property has been empty for six years and every time a proposal comes up for it, it's not allowed?"
Mr. Tevis confirmed after the hearing that Mr. Lennon is his attorney for the sale of the property.
The gas station and small grocery or convenience store aren't the only possible use for the site, said city resident Deborah Finch.
"If we set a standard and go our and look for something, we're going to find it," she said.