Appeals panel rejects warehouse variance


After heated debate, the Howard County Board of Appeals narrowly voted last night against a developer's request to build a warehouse in Elkridge that would be closer to a residential neighborhood than is normally allowed.

Residents of the Elkridge neighborhood of Dorsey, which is adjacent to the property, breathed audible sighs of relief when Robert C. Sharps, the chairman, cast the deciding vote - three weeks after the rest of the five-member board had deadlocked on the issue.

Reisterstown developer Mark L. Levy, general manager of Dorsey Rock LLC, had requested permission from the Board of Appeals to reduce to 30 feet the required 150-foot setback between the proposed building and the residences. He said it was necessary because of stream buffers and other "unique physical conditions" on the 16-acre parcel.

Residents oppose the plan because they envision noisy and smelly diesel trucks driving too close to their neighborhood and endangering children.

Resident Carol Martin, spokeswoman for the opposition, testified last month that Dorsey Rock shouldn't have needed to reduce the setback. She said the company got itself into a bind by opting to build only on a 16-acre parcel, although it owns 52 acres next to the neighborhood.

Dorsey Rock should have "ample room" to build the warehouse without reducing the 150-foot setback, Martin said.

Board members disagree

The three board members who voted against the developer's request - Sharps, Bill Waff and Jacqueline R. Scott - agreed that it appeared that Dorsey Rock had created the need for a variance.

Sharps also said the developer never proved that he was asking for the smallest necessary reduction to the setback.

"They are backing right into those folks' yards," said Scott.

Board member James W. Pfefferkorn said he didn't think the parcel's difficulties were created by the developer.

And Jerry L. Rushing, the other board member who voted to approve the request, said it was important to consider testimony that the building was as small as possible to still be economically feasible.

"To exclude... economic factors would be in error," Rushing said.

The developer's attorney, Howard L. Alderman Jr., said he was surprised that the variance was denied.

"Obviously we're disappointed with the vote as it came out," he said.

"We did prove - every witness testified - that that was the minimal variance necessary.

Appeal is possible

"That's the problem with people not being present," he added, a reference to Sharps' absence at earlier hearings. Sharps listened to tapes of the testimony.

Alderman said Dorsey Rock can file a new proposal or appeal to Circuit Court.

"The petitioner's evidence - most of it is unrebutted," he said. "And I think a court will view it that way."

Thomas E. Dernoga, attorney for Martin, said the plans didn't get a good reception from the Howard County Planning Board, either. The panel recommended in March that the Board of Appeals deny the application.

"An appeal would be on very shaky ground," Dernoga said.

Enjoying victory

Gathered outside the board room with a small group of Elkridge neighbors, Martin enjoyed last night's victory.

"Thank goodness for Sharps, Scott and Waff," she said. "As you can imagine, we're elated."

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