In zoning disputes, the battle lines are usually clear: residents against developer.
But in the case of the Towson Marketplace redevelopment, neighbors are battling neighbors about a proposal to build a 16-screen cinema, causing bitter dissension in several old communities.
The controversy over whether the area needs a multiplex with 3,500 seats has been heating up as tomorrow's zoning hearing nears. Emotions are high, and tempers are flaring, especially in Loch Raven Village and Knettishall.
"I pray to God it doesn't divide us," said Darrell Krushensky, who has lived in Loch Raven Village for 23 years.
The theaters are part of a $20 million renovation plan by Florida-based developer James Schlesinger of Talisman-Towson Partnership for the 38-year-old Towson Marketplace at East Joppa Road and Goucher Boulevard.
Since summer, opposition to the theaters has become increasingly vocal. "It got ugly," said Mr. Krushensky, a member of his neighborhood's board of directors. "They suggested the board hasn't protected the community."
Some members of the two community associations have been accused of taking bribes from Mr. Schlesinger and lying to community residents. The latest action has been a call by some residents to impeach the Loch Raven and Knettishall boards of directors.
"It's abhorrent what they have done to some very fine people. They're just ordinary citizens doing the best for their community," Mr. Schlesinger said.
Dale E. Livingston, a former member of Knettishall board who has been the target of some attacks, said: "It is hurtful. It's unfair. It's ridiculous. I've done nothing for my own gain. It's always been for the community."
But those who oppose the multiplex say otherwise. "The boards have refused to listen to [their] members," said Mike Sarkin, organizer of C.A.M.M. (Citizens Against Marketplace Movies).
And that is the heart of the issue.
C.A.M.M. was formed as a grass-roots effort last summer when a group of residents became fearful that the proposed multiplex would bring more crime and vandalism. They said they had not been informed by their neighborhood representatives -- a charge that puzzles members of the boards.
Anne Levine, vice president of Knettishall's board, said the board had called meetings in February and June to keep members apprised. Only about 25 people attended each meeting.
"Where have you guys been before?" she said of the protesters.
The Loch Raven Village board sent movie news through its newsletter, which each of the community's 1,472 rowhouses receives. "When people say, 'How come you didn't tell us about this?' I want to say, 'We've done everything but call you,' " said Mr. Krushensky, who opposes the cinema plan.
Many neighbors are against the theaters, but several on the associations' boards of directors said they believed they were locked into a 1989 agreement with the owner of the property that permits movie theaters.
They formed a liaison committee to revise the contract with Mr. Schlesinger, hoping to gain concessions such as limited midnight movies. The process fell apart in August after the opposition forced an emotionally charged Loch Raven Village membership meeting where hundreds of residents voted against the theater plan.
At that time, Mr. Schlesinger terminated the liaison meetings and submitted his plan to the county as part of the development process. He needs zoning approval for the theaters and a special exception for parking to proceed with his proposal.
At a recent county meeting, the Department of Permits and Development Management supported Mr. Schlesinger's plan, recommending that the theaters be allowed to operate from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. weekdays and 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. weekends.
"It's an irritant. But are we discouraged? No," said Mr. Sarkin, whose group plans to pack Room 118 at the old County Courthouse at 9 a.m. tomorrow. The room also has been set aside for Wednesday and Thursday in case those days are needed for testimony.