Panel members won't push for zoning change


Two Anne Arundel County councilmen who backed away two days ago from a zoning change that would have allowed construction of a much-debated commercial and residential "village" on Bestgate Road now say they have no plans to push for the change by next week's deadline.

Councilmen Bill D. Burlison and Edward R. Reilly say they still support the Village at Bestgate project but concede they apparently don't have the votes to pass the measure at Monday's council meeting, the last day the zoning plan could be amended.

"I don't have plans for it," said Burlison of the zoning amendment, which he had drafted by the council's attorney but refused to introduce at the last minute Monday night.

Reilly - in his first term on the council - had been set to sponsor the amendment with Burlison. He said yesterday that he would defer to Burlison's leadership on the matter.

Developer Michael DeStefano, president of Gambrills-based Sturbridge Homes Inc., said yesterday that he would continue to lobby elected officials for the mixed-use zoning he needs to execute the project he is planning with Erwin L. Greenberg & Associates of Owings Mills.

"Things don't look good, but we have one more meeting to get some things done," said DeStefano.

The land use proposal has been debated as part of a comprehensive zoning plan for the Annapolis Neck, which includes Bestgate Road. The proposed Village at Bestgate would include 240 condominiums, plus office and retail space. The Bestgate property is zoned for residential uses only.

DeStefano, who with the Owings Mills firm has a contract to buy the Bestgate land, said he could build houses and townhouses on the site if the zoning request fails or simply clear the land and sell it to national builders who would construct the dwellings.

DeStefano said he was disappointed and surprised that Burlison pulled the zoning amendment at the last minute, but said no elected official promised him a vote. In the past, he has rejected suggestions that contributions he and his father, Robert DeStefano, made to some council members' political campaigns helped the project's cause.

Contributions by the DeStefanos to council members in the 2002 election cycle totaled $4,750. Reilly, Burlison and Councilwomen Cathleen M. Vitale, a Republican from Severna Park, and Pamela G. Beidle, a Democrat from Linthicum, each received contributions.

Reilly, Burlison and Vitale have stated publicly that contributions from the DeStefanos played no role in the decision-making process. Beidle, who has sold insurance policies to the DeStefanos, has not participated in discussions about the Bestgate Road proposal.

"I bring very little to the table except my integrity and my honesty," said Reilly, a Crofton Republican, who added that he met with Michael DeStefano for about two hours but took seven hours to meet face-to-face with opponents.

Reilly said he planned to co-sponsor the amendment because Burlison, a Democrat from Odenton, wouldn't do it on his own. Reilly said that he decided to support mixed-use zoning after DeStefano promised not to develop a portion of the Bestgate site that includes woods and a stream.

"Now that very vulnerable ... back area is subject to development," he said. "I was hoping to avoid that."

Going into Monday night's meeting, developers thought they had four votes to pass the amendment: Burlison, Reilly, Vitale and Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Republican from Severn.

But during the weekend, Middlebrooks changed his mind, he said. Middlebrooks said he was concerned about adding more traffic to Bestgate Road and jeopardizing plans to turn Parole into a commercial and residential hub.

Middlebrooks said again yesterday that he opposes mixed-use zoning for the Bestgate site.

"I do think people in this county want [development] controlled more than it is now," he said.

Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a Democrat from the Annapolis Neck who has opposed the village plan, said yesterday that she was relieved the amendment was pulled.

"It has been such a monumental effort by so many people," she said of the opposition push, which included the Sierra Club as well as community groups such as the Generals Highway Council of Civic Associations. "It was very heartening."

Samorajczyk, like many other opponents of the village concept, said yesterday that she will remain vigilant until a long-range plan is adopted for the Annapolis Neck without mixed-use zoning on Bestgate Road. County code states that mixed-use zoning must be adopted as part of the small area planning process.

"It appears that the mixed-use issue won't be over until the plan is approved," she said.

The council is expected to take a final vote on the Annapolis Neck plan March 17.

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