Project changed, but foes remain; Big-box plan replaces Promenade concept; traffic fears raised; Eldersburg


The Promenade at Eldersburg, a proposed $32 million retail mecca that pitted developers against homeowners, has a new owner, new design and fewer tenants, and is proceeding through the county review process.

It also has another name. The Promenade is now Eldersburg Marketplace, proposed for 36 acres at Route 32 and Londontown Boulevard. Members of the county's Subdivision Advisory Committee and the developer described the plan yesterday at a public meeting in Westminster.

The Promenade won zoning approval two years ago as a glitzy center with a movie complex, upscale anchor stores and trendy restaurants. Much of the original concept is gone from the plan presented yesterday.

The theater chain backed out, and the promise of well-known department stores has faded. The prospective tenants are Home Depot and Kohl's, a discount chain, although neither has applied for building permits. Instead of the avenue-concept, where shoppers walk landscaped paths to stores, the marketplace will have the traditional placement of stores fronting a parking lot.

"We want better pedestrian movement within the center," Raj Williams, county planner, said yesterday at the meeting. "We were looking for more of a town-center feeling."

At the review, residents, who fought The Promenade through five grueling days of zoning hearings -- the developer won a conditional use to build a shopping center on the land, which was zoned for industrial use -- reiterated concerns about traffic, safety and aesthetics yesterday.

Residents also brought up South Carroll's recurring water shortages. The county's most populated area with 28,000 residents, South Carroll has suffered through water restrictions the past three summers. Without more water sources, this year could bring more of the same, officials said.

Reed Muse, county utilities engineer, said, "We cannot guarantee water allocation at this time and until additional water sources are on line."

Because of changes to the original plan, residents want the project returned to the Board of Zoning Appeals for another review.

"There are substantial changes, and the thing should start over," said Donna Slack, whose back yard overlooks the site.

Slack produced color drawings of The Promenade and asked that they be submitted into evidence.

"We were told this would be a highly attractive, upscale center," she said. But the Eldersburg Marketplace "is just another ugly, big-box center."

Slack also mentioned zoning regulations that prohibit a lumberyard or building supply store in a planned business center.

A home improvement store "would make 60 percent of your retail space a prohibited use," said Barry Marsh of Eldersburg. Marsh urged the developer to review the original plan if he wished to have community support.

Dixon Harvey, who owns the development company, Black Oak Associates, indicated changing the plan would be difficult.

"Times have changed, and the cinema complex is no longer interested," said Harvey. "It is hard to create the same configuration."

Until July, Harvey owned the nearby Carrolltown Center, the county's oldest indoor shopping mall. Two years ago, Harvey opposed The Promenade on behalf of his mall tenants. He said yesterday the two centers will be complementary, not competitive.

Traffic studies show the center will generate about 15,000 trips daily in the county's most populated area, where residents often wait through traffic lights at key intersections. Harvey said he is committed to more than $1 million in road improvements, particularly at three intersections: Routes 26 and 32; Route 26 and Georgetown Boulevard; and Route 32 and Londontown Boulevard, which would be the entrance to Eldersburg Marketplace.

"We want to improve the level of traffic service so that you are better off with the center than you are now," said Harvey.

Stephen A. Ford, bureau chief of the county's development review agency, stressed the hearing was an initial step.

"This project came in three weeks ago, and it is not going to be settled soon," Ford said. "There is a lot of work and probably another subdivision advisory meeting before this goes to the planning commission."

That commission will make the final recommendation on the project.

Harvey agreed to work with Slack and her neighbors. She asked that he "make this as safe as we can and minimize the negative effects on the area."

"I will do whatever I can and would be happy to address specifics," Harvey said.

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