2nd look at zoning category planned


Westminster Common Council decided last night to hold another public hearing on a new zoning category, the neighborhood commercial zone, because of significant changes in the proposal.

The proposed zoning - which would allow neighborhood stores that blend in with their surroundings - was modified after a public hearing in July to meet concerns of the mayor and council, said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works.

A public hearing was set for 7 p.m. July 24, and the proposal could be adopted in August, said Council President Damian L. Halstad.

The proposed ordinance includes several pages of permitted uses, such as package stores, veterinary clinics without exterior kennel runways, banks, day care, grocery stores, video stores, clubs and restaurants. No provision is included for adult entertainment.

The proposed ordinance would require a special exception for some categories, including banks with drive-through service, microbreweries, sign-painting shops, swimming pools and telecommunications facilities.

Under the proposal, buildings would be limited to three stories, and businesses would be required to sell goods that were new or reconditioned, or "bona fide antiques." No business could have odor, dust, smoke, cinder, gas, fumes, noise, vibration or other nuisances.

Also under the proposed ordinance, signs and facades would have to be muted and on a smaller scale, and the architecture must be designed to blend into the area, with trees and shrubs as buffer. The proposal also sets new standards of lighting, with lower fixtures and less illumination.

"There was a general concern about the overall intensity of the site," Beyard said of the previous proposal, which limited buildings to 25,000 square feet.

Under the proposed ordinance, a new two-tiered approach would allow properties up to 5 acres to have individual stores no bigger than 15,000 square feet. Properties of 5 to 15 acres could have one building of 55,000 square feet, but other buildings would be limited to no more than 15,000.

The revised proposal also would give more oversight to the mayor and council, because a development plan could be required with the rezoning request, Beyard told them.

If adopted, the zoning category would apply only to parcels outlined in the city's master plan, adopted in 1998, he said. That means it applies to only three sites around the city, including the 17-acre Koontz farm near Western Maryland College.

Richard Bowie, who lives near that parcel, said he and other neighbors oppose rezoning for commercial use. In other business, the council gave its support to Carroll County Arts Council's plan to renovate the 1925 Carroll movie theater at 91 W. Main St. for a community cultural center, with a 200-seat theater, studios, classrooms and kitchen.

The council unanimously supported the arts group's application for a $248,000 state grant - about half of the $523,000 cost of renovations - from the Neighborhood Business Development Program of the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

The council also approved a $75,000 grant from the city's Revolving Assistance Loan Fund for the project, plus $50,000 in city staff services. The arts council also must contribute $150,000.

Architectural firms are being interviewed, and work could begin in January, Beyard said.

The council also approved Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan's reappointment of Margaret Bair to another five-year term on the planning and zoning commission.

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