Debbie Fieldhouse and her Ellicott City neighbors seemingly succeeded in scaring off a developer who wanted to build a shopping center in their residential neighborhood.
Now, they are confronting another.
Last night, Fieldhouse, president of the Mount Hebron/Orchards Community Association, and about 60 other Ellicott City residents gathered at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church to meet with representatives of a developer who wants to build offices and possibly some retail outlets on 2 acres across from Hollifield Station Elementary School.
"We can be allies instead of adversaries," said Steven K. Breeden, vice president of Security Development Corp. in Ellicott City.
The Ryland Group owns the property at the northeast corner of Patapsco Valley Drive and Rogers Avenue, which Security hopes to develop.
Fieldhouse said she has made it clear to Breeden that she and her neighbors oppose any retail outlets whatsoever on the land, and want only professional office space.
Breeden wouldn't promise that last night, although he said repeatedly that he wanted to work with neighbors.
"We're not going to put a fast-food restaurant in there," he said, suggesting instead a dry-cleaning operation, a real estate office and perhaps offices for doctors and lawyers.
But some residents also don't want offices.
"Criminals visit lawyers," said Deanna Trask of the Hollifield Station neighborhood.
When told a patent lawyer has expressed interest in an office at the site, she remained unconvinced, pointing out that a different kind of lawyer could move there in the future.
"I'm concerned we're fighting a losing battle with bureaucracy," she said. "Ryland is a big builder in the county, and we're a little community."
Residents also worried about increased congestion on busy Rogers Avenue and whether a commercial development fits in with the residential character of the neighborhood.
The property is part of the Daniels Mill Overlook subdivision, a 290-unit community.
For many opponents, the whole debate has something of a feeling of deja vu to it.
Earlier this year, another developer applied for a zoning amendment that would allow a shopping center on the land.
Dozens of residents from surrounding neighborhoods contacted the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning to object to the development.
As a result, the developer abandoned the project, said Bob Lalush, acting division chief of the division of public service and zoning administration in the Department of Planning and Zoning.
In the interim, before Security stepped in, residents had attempted to buy the land from Ryland for $250,000.
They raised only $2,700, which was returned to contributors, Fieldhouse said.
But she has hopes that if residents care enough, they can rally again to try to purchase the land.
Last night, she encouraged them to consider that option, or to ask Ryland to donate the land to them.
"We still have the option of bombarding Ryland and appealing to them in some way," Fieldhouse said.