The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously denied yesterday a petition requesting business zoning in a predominantly residential area on Strawbridge Terrace in Eldersburg.
Its recommendation goes to the county commissioners, who will make the final decision on the request to rezone a 4.5-acre parcel and four-story stone building owned by Irvin and Peggy Gordon.
The Gordons, both 72, purchased the property more than 30 years ago and have made several attempts to establish various enterprises, including a restaurant, swim club and croquet fields, on the property. The county, concerned with increased traffic and noise, has rejected every proposal. The courts have upheld all previous decisions.
The couple converted the building, once an orphanage run by the Methodist Church, into eight rental units and live in one apartment.
To win a rezoning, they had to prove a mistake in the original zoning or a change in the character of their neighborhood. Planning commissioners said neither condition had occurred. Business zoning could allow more than 80 different uses on the property.
"This is a unique property that imposes a challenge," said Edward M. Beard, planning commissioner. "The footprint of the building is on a half-acre. That still leaves four acres and a lot of uses inappropriate to a neighborhood. Once it is rezoned, it would be rezoned so you could have a gas station."
Planning Commissioner Grant Dannelly said business zoning "causes me great anxiety." Dannelly objected to piecemeal zoning in a neighborhood that "is overwhelmingly residential" and was reluctant to reverse several previous decisions.
"Let's leave this property the way it is," said Dannelly. "It is consistent with the [county] master plan."
The Gordons contend the original zoning was erroneous. As apartment owners, they say, they pay commercial property tax rates and water and sanitation fees. Dannelly said those costs were not related to zoning.
"The Gordons bought this property knowing what it was," said Ed Wheatley, a planning commissioner. "Business zoning covers a multitude of sins and they are not specifying what they want. They have had their day in court before. Everybody can't be wrong. This kind of zoning is not warranted in a neighborhood."
About 30 neighbors attended the hearing, and several spoke in opposition. They offered a petition with nearly 300 signatures opposed to a business in their neighborhood -- a petition the county attorney said could have no bearing on the commission's decision.
"Business zoning should be in a more logical location, not one within a neighborhood," said Pam Seiter, president of the Strawbridge Homeowners Association. "You don't put commercial in the middle of residential when there are many vacant stores in Eldersburg."
Seiter said she considered the commission's decision a small victory, but "the Gordons will keep on trying. We would like to be left to the enjoyment of our homes and not have zoning changed on us."
Peggy Gordon said she was not discouraged by the latest setback.
"I expected this because there have been wild rumors about what we planned to do with the property," Gordon said.
The Gordons contend their neighborhood has changed significantly. In their argument, they noted the proximity of the Eldersburg Business Center, which is less than a half-mile away on Route 32, and the Freedom Swim Club, which adjoins their property. In 1980, Liberty High School opened across Johnsville Road from the Gordons.
"Everybody wants to live near a golf course," said Irvin Gordon. "We have a football field in our front yard and the band practices every night. If neighbors wanted to control this place, they should have bought it."
The Gordons said yesterday they have had no offers to purchase the property. They added that they have no plans to raze the building or to develop the property, but they want business zoning. Neighbors are concerned such a designation would make the property attractive to commercial development.
"Once it is zoned for business, the Gordons could sell the property and leave," said Ed Overton, a Placid Drive resident for 30 years.