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Zoning Board rejects gas station plan

The Baltimore Sun

A plan to bring a gas station and carwash to the Waverly Woods Village Center in western Howard County died Wednesday when the county Zoning Board unanimously voted against a zoning change in the fifth hearing on the matter.

"I'm obviously very disappointed in the outcome of the case," Rick Levitan, co-owner of the petitioner, Convenience Retailing LLC, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. "I'm shocked that this Zoning Board showed no regard for the recommendations of its own Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ), which in 1999 and in 2007 issued staff reports which stated that the right place for a service station was in the Village Center."

Levitan, who has worked on the project for about two years, said he does not plan to pursue rezoning for the parcel located at Warwick and Birmingham ways, but had not given up entirely on the service station idea.

"We like the area," he said yesterday in a phone interview. "The area needs a gas station. We'll continue to look for other opportunities."

Ronald L. Spahn, an attorney representing the original developers of the shopping center, had argued that there never was a plan to put a gas station in the village center.

"We developed it in a manner the community loves, and we want to keep it that way," he said in an interview. "If we put one in, we want to put it on Marriottsville Road. People like their privacy. People don't like traffic."

Existing zoning allows a traditional restaurant on the site where Convenience Retailing had proposed the service station that was to have included a small snack shop. Construction of a fast-food restaurant at that location would require a conditional-use permit, according to county zoning officials.

At issue in Wednesday's hearing was whether there was evidence of a mistake in zoning or a change in the character of the community since the last rezoning.

"The need for the gas station was well-documented from all sides and it was a mistake of the Zoning Board during the Comprehensive Plan of 2004 not to change the zoning," Levitan, whose company has gas stations in Dorsey's Search and Owen Brown villages in Columbia, said in a statement. "The members of this Zoning Board should have rectified that mistake, but they chose not to."

Spahn had argued that there had been no change or mistake.

The burden of proof was on the petitioner, and board members said they had not been persuaded of a change or mistake or that there was a trend to place gas stations in village centers. In Howard County, the county council also serves as the zoning board.

Russell Preisinger, a nearby resident and business owner, was disappointed with the decision.

"I live less than a mile from there, and it's a real inconvenience to go up to Route 40 to get gas," he said yesterday. "When you're in a hurry, an extra 10 minutes is a lot. That's an extra 20 minutes both ways."

Preisinger, who is co-owner of Mangia, a restaurant in the shopping center, and who owns nearby office space, also had looked to the proposed gas station to draw customers.

"I'm quite bummed in both ways," he said. "I have everything here. It's one thing we're missing is a gas station."

But Richard Futrovsky, a Waverly Woods resident who had testified against the project, was happy with the decision.

"It shouldn't be there," he said in an interview yesterday. "It doesn't belong there. People didn't want it. ... It's not the type of business that you put in a shopping center that's in a residential neighborhood."

During a hearing last month, Joseph W. Rutter Jr., a principal with Howard County-based Land Design & Development Inc. who testified for the opposition, said Marriottsville Road is a more appropriate location for a gas station.

Levitan had argued that locating gas stations in village centers and shopping centers was a trend that began in the late '70s and continues today, because of people's interest in one-stop shopping.

Calvin Ball, whose district includes Oakland Mills Village Center, where a gas station closed several years ago, said that closure was evidence of an opposite trend.

"There were several opportunities to have other gas stations there," he said during the hearing. "I'm not convinced that the trend is to have gas stations in village centers."

The shopping center developers have said that if Convenience Retailing withdrew its zoning appeal to build a station at Warwick and Birmingham ways, Waverly Woods Development would be open to the construction of a gas station by them or someone else on property it owns on Marriottsville Road.

Levitan said yesterday that he would be interested in that idea.

"We tried to meet with GTW to work out a deal to build on their parcel on Marriottsville Road," he said. "They couldn't give us anything concrete."

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