Residents seek Owens' veto on commercial zone at airport


Residents who sought to restrict commercial development at Lee Airport in Edgewater are asking Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens to take up their plight and veto a recent zoning decision.

The Anne Arundel County Council voted 6-1 this week to assign commercial zoning to 30 acres at the airport, where the owners want to build a retail village. But some residents strongly oppose the idea, arguing that the shopping center will pollute Warehouse Creek and create traffic hassles on Route 2.

"We are very concerned about the whole area around here and believe this [rezoning] is setting a very bad precedent," Peter J. Quirk, a South River Park resident, said Tuesday.

Quirk, who has advocated for less-intense development at the airport, such as houses, said he and others have sent letters to Owens and Gov. Parris N. Glendening seeking aid.

Owens has 10 days after the council adopts legislation to execute her veto power. But an Owens spokesman said the county executive was not likely to veto the zoning change.

"The county executive supports commercial zoning at Lee Airport," said the spokesman, Matt Diehl.

Council member Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat, voted against changing zoning from residential to commercial, arguing that a new retail center at the airport could hurt plans to recast Parole Plaza as a hub of office space, shops and apartments.

"The whole purpose of the Parole plan was to focus growth in Parole," she said. "I am totally confused."

A member of an advisory group that is setting design standards for the Parole project said in a letter to the council that a shopping center at Lee Airport could cause traffic snarls on Route 2.

"Commercial development anywhere on the Lee property will increase traffic to new, intolerable levels," said Dinny White, a retired planner and member of the Parole Growth Management committee.

David A. Simison, an Annapolis attorney who represents the Lee family, which owns the airport, called that argument "last-minute straw-grabbing."

"People just went from one reason to another reason to oppose the project," Simison said. He added that the retail center is envisioned to be a model development, much like The Village at Waugh Chapel in Odenton or The Avenue at White Marsh in Baltimore County.

"It could be really exciting from this point out," he said.

Members of the Lee family, including airport manager C. Van Lee, have worked with members of five homeowner groups to create legal covenants that will limit commercial space at the shopping center to 387,000 square feet. Impervious surfaces, including parking lots, will not exceed 58 percent of the total retail area.

The Lees "engaged the neighborhoods and came up with a good comprehensive plan," Simison said at the council meeting Monday.

But those who oppose plans for a retail center - complete with large retail anchor stores, boutiques, restaurants and offices - say it would do more harm to Warehouse Creek, which is already polluted.

Quirk said he hopes to put some of what he has learned while fighting against commercial development at the airport to use to protect other waterways. A network of preservationists is being formed, he said.

"There are quite a number of people around the creeks who have had a bad time with the county," Quirk said. "One needs a stronger alliance in order for these issues to be heard."

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