In a surprise move, Anne Arundel County Council members withdrew last night a controversial zoning amendment that would have given a Gambrills developer the right to build a commercial and residential "village" on Bestgate Road near Annapolis.
Councilman Bill D. Burlison, an Odenton Democrat, announced about 8:45 p.m. that he was withdrawing the amendment after more than an hour of emotional public testimony, including comments from former Councilwoman Maureen Lamb. She reminded elected officials of a past policy decision not to allow commercial growth north of Bestgate Road, including the site of the proposed village.
"If you [do this] you will change things that have been accepted for many, many years," said Lamb, an Annapolis resident who served on the council for 12 years and has also worked to create a commercial hub in Parole. "The boundaries [for the Parole redevelopment area] were not taken out of a hat. ... It would be a terrible mistake if you were to change them now."
Besides sprawl, many Annapolis Neck residents have said that they oppose the village concept because they fear the development - which could include 240 condominiums, plus office and retail space - could create serious traffic woes. The Bestgate development site is near the Annapolis mall, a congested area.
Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Republican from Severn, said last night that it is unlikely the amendment will be introduced at a council meeting Monday. Middlebrooks, who was set to vote in favor of the zoning change as recently as last week, changed his mind shortly before last night's session.
Middlebrooks said he told council colleagues of his decision before the meeting began and that they did not try to persuade him to change his mind.
"I am not adamantly opposed to the zoning change, but I made a decision and I hope people will respect that," Middlebrooks said. "For all practical purposes, [the village project] has been defeated."
The withdrawn amendment was co-sponsored by Burlison and Councilman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican. Burlison, a former council chairman, and Reilly, a council newcomer, were unavailable for comment late last night as the council was still in session.
Outside the council chambers in Annapolis, opponents of the "Village at Bestgate" proposal by Gambrills-based Sturbridge Homes Inc. and Erwin L. Greenberg & Associates of Baltimore shared handshakes and smiles. An advisory committee that has worked for more than a decade to create the Parole hub has threatened to resign if the council changes zoning at the Bestgate site.
"I'm feeling great relief," said John Fischer, president of the Parole Growth Management Area Committee. "The committee is still intact, at least for now."
Fischer and other opponents of the village proposal said last night that they will remain vigilant until a comprehensive rezoning bill for the Annapolis Neck area, which includes the Bestgate property, is adopted - action that is expected within the next few weeks.
Sturbridge President Michael DeStefano said last night that he might lobby council members to change their minds and introduce the amendment that he needs to build the village.
"It'd be nice if they would do that," DeStefano said. "That's still what I am hoping will happen."
It had been rumored that a majority of council members had lined up behind the zoning amendment. In addition to Burlison, Reilly and Middlebrooks, Council Chairwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Republican from Severna Park, had also hinted that she was leaning toward voting for the zoning change.
On the other side, council members Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a Democrat from the Annapolis Neck, and Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Pasadena Republican, had stated publicly that they would oppose the change based on testimony by residents, including longtime homeowners along Bestgate Road.
"I don't know if [the developers] will come back with a different proposal; they have a week to put something together," Dillon said. "If the proposal is radically different, then we will look at the proposal."
Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Democrat from Linthicum, excused herself from discussions on the Bestgate Road issue because she has sold insurance policies to Sturbridge Homes.
Samorajczyk said she was "livid" that the bill sponsors didn't share a draft with her before the meeting. She said she shared drafts of eight amendments she proposed for the Annapolis Neck Small Area plan with her colleagues several weeks ago.
Seven of Samorajczyk's amendments, including one to include updated demographics in the plan, were adopted by the council last night. Details of the amendment that didn't pass were not immediately available.