Car dealerships are commonplace along York Road south of Warren Road in Cockeysville. But Carol Taylor doesn't want one near her historic Sherwood Hill neighborhood north of Warren Road.
"We're trying to keep our peace and quiet," said Taylor, a real estate agent and president of the Sherwood Hill Improvement Association.
Sherwood Hill residents are fighting mad about plans by TTV Properties III LLC, which owns Bill Kidd's Toyota and Volvo dealerships at 10401York Road, to build a standalone Volvo dealership at 10630 York Road.
It would be the first car dealership north of Warren Road, a residential stretch of York Road near a historic antique shop area known as the Village of Old Cockeysville that dates to 1810.
TTV Properties attorney Lawrence Schmidt said Toyota as a manufacturer doesn't want "dual dealerships" competing under one roof and recommended that TTV relocate the Volvo dealership. Aaron Fowles, corporate communications manager for Toyota Motor North America, said "exclusivity is preferred," but not required.
TTV Properties, whose majority owners are Kidd and Charles Fenwick Jr., purchased the 1.5-acre property for $2.2 million, Schmidt confirmed. The site, at York and Hillside Avenue, has been home since 1994 to Hunt Valley Car Wash, which would be razed to make way for a 4,500-square-foot dealership.
The Sherwood Hill Improvement Association, a community group, contends that building a dealership there would bring unwanted noise, night lights and traffic to the upscale neighborhood of 720 homes, whose residents include U.S. Rep. Andy Harris and State Sen. James Brochin.
Attorney J. Carroll Holzer, representing the association, is asking the Baltimore County Board of Appeals to reconsider its recent approval of TTV Properties' plans, despite assurances by TTV and conditions set by the appeals board that the site would serve only as a showroom, with no loudspeakers or bright lights, and that repairs and deliveries of inventory would be made to a nearby Bill Kidd service and parts center.
Holzer said the community has a good case, partly because of legal issues surrounding the County Council's disputed rezoning of the property last year without public input. He said that if the Board of Appeals refuses his reconsideration motion, he would encourage the community to appeal to the Baltimore County Circuit Court — and all the way to the Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis, if necessary.
Sherwood Hill resident Jim McBean, who lives with his wife, Lisa, in a historic house on Hillside Avenue, fears that if one dealership gets a foothold north of Warren Road, others will follow.
"I just don't want a row of car dealerships heading into this part of Cockeysville," he said. "It's not why we moved here."
"We are frankly appalled that this dealership development plan has gotten this far," resident Becky Gerber, an early opponent of the project, said in an email last week. "This car dealership design will change the complexion of the area; we will lose any semblance of a town and we and our property values will be negatively impacted."
Eric Rockel, president of the Greater Timonium Community Council, said the proposed development doesn't follow design guidelines in the Hunt Valley-Timonium Master Plan and that other sites have been available south of Warren Road. He said he hopes Sherwood Hill appeals the case to the courts if necessary.
Zoning at issue
Residents are irked that former 3rd District County Councilman Todd Huff last year convinced the County Council, without the community's knowledge, Taylor said, to pass a bill that would allow the dealership to be built on land with split zoning, only a sliver of which is zoned to allow a car dealership.
The county also granted a limited exception that exempted TTV Properties from a development review and approval process that would have required community input meetings.
"It could be argued that this bill was crafted solely to benefit a single property, and drafted to be unclear [as to] the true intent," Taylor said.
"It's a smelly way of doing things," Holzer said.
Huff, who is operations manager for the family-owned Brooks-Huff Tire and Auto Centers and who lost re-election of his council seat to Wade Kach in 2014, said he was simply trying to be "business-friendly" and help the local economy by bringing jobs to the area and increasing the tax base without affecting nearby residents. Huff also said the proposed Volvo dealership would be open six days a week with limited hours, compared to the 24/7 car wash, which he said draws a lot more people than a Volvo dealership would.
Schmidt said he and Kidd first met with Huff to see if Huff could recommend sites other than the one now proposed, but that Huff expressed surprise that the existing zoning on the car wash site didn't allow for a dealership. Huff then introduced his bill to address what he considered as "an inconsistency in the zoning regulations," Schmidt said.
County Councilman Wade Kach, who unseated Huff, has since asked the County Council to revisit the legislation, but the council voted 4-3 earlier this year not to take up the issue again.
"I think some council members thought it wasn't fair to pull the rug out from under the Volvo dealership," Kach said.
But Kach and other critics maintain that Huff’s bill was unfair because it used a small fraction of an acre to “dictate” how the entire parcel would be zoned. According to Mike Pierce, the first resident to oppose Huff’s bill, the fraction was one 60th of an acre.
Critics also say the bill was written in such a way that the community didn’t fathom its consequences.
Gerber said residents think that "there is clearly favoritism at play here for Mr. Kidd and Mr. Fenwick," at the community's expense.
Holzer, joined by the People's Counsel for Baltimore County, appealed the county's approval of the dealership to an appointed three-member panel of the Baltimore County Board of Appeals, which was sharply divided as well, voting 2-1 in June to approve the plans.
Appeals board Chairman David Thurston and board member Andrew Belt sided with TTV Properties.
"While the board finds that all of the community concerns are valid, this board does not find that these concerns reach a level which should preclude the approval of the proposed development," the board's majority opinion and order states.
The opinion cites testimony from Kidd that no loudspeaker or intercom system would be used on the site, and that deliveries of new inventory would be made at Bill Kidd's parts and service facility on Industry Lane.
Kidd testified that about 20 cars a month would be sold at the proposed site and the dealership would not be as intensive a use as it would be at dealerships of more popular brands.
The board upheld the limited exception and the development plans, but set seven conditions, including limiting the dealership's hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, with no sales allowed on Sunday. The board also banned deliveries of cars by 18-wheel car carrier trucks and disallowed loudspeakers, a service garage and bright lights on the site during non-business hours.
In a dissenting opinion, the third member of the board, Benfred Alston, said his colleagues were misinterpreting county zoning regulations. Alston questioned whether a dealership can be built and cars stored on a site partly zoned for light manufacturing.
"We say you can," said Schmidt, a former county zoning administrator and Board of Appeals member. He said zoning of the property is split between Business Major, which allows dealerships, Business Local, which doesn't, and Manufacturing Light, which sanctions the manufacture and storage of cars.
'Rush to judgment'?
Holzer's motion for reconsideration, filed June 23, alleges "a rush to judgment" by the Board of Appeals when it signed its written order on Thurston's last day on the board before he retired, hastening a paperwork process that usually takes several weeks. Holzer also questioned whether Huff's bill was designed to give "preferential treatment" to TTV Properties.
Since Thurston has not been replaced and the two remaining board members are in disagreement over the case, a third member should be appointed and the case sent back to the board for reconsideration, Holzer contends.
In a response filed July 10, Schmidt argues that unless any fraud, mistake or irregularity is established, granting the motion would establish a precedent in which anyone unhappy with a 2-1 decision "can get a do-over" with a new panel simply because of the departure of a board member within 30 days of the written order.
Schmidt also said there's no law against signing a written order the same day as the ruling.
The Volvo issue has galvanized Sherwood Hill. A community petition has garnered about 100 signatures so far, including many of the seniors who live in nearby Warren Place, Taylor said. She also said the dealership was a hot topic at a recent annual meeting of the community association and 75 people attended, a much higher turnout than usual.
"We are not anti-business. We are not anti-development," Taylor said. But she added, "The Village of Old Cockeysville is worth saving."
"We like the quirkiness of downtown Cockeysville," said Hillside Avenue resident Lisa McBean.
"The car wash doesn't look that bad," McBean said, citing the building's brick construction and short green roof in keeping with the Hunt Valley-Timonium Master Plan. "It's not obnoxious."
But she said the Volvo dealership would sit higher on York Road and that its lights would look like "a ball field" at night.
Taylor said she doesn't want car dealerships to encroach farther up York Road, predicting that if that happens, "All of Cockeysville is lost."
That's Kach's main concern, too.
"Personally, I don't think a car dealership belongs north of Warren Road," Kach said. He thinks the area, where antique shops are disappearing because of eBay and other websites on the Internet, is better suited to "unique" shops and businesses, "where people want to go."
Lisa McBean's husband, Jim, said Hillside Avenue is enjoying a resurgence, with several new homes built or renovated in recent years.
"It's a hot neighborhood," he said. "Maybe that's why they want to put a Volvo dealership here."
Caught in the middle
As the battle heats up, Sherwood Hill's newest resident, Jim Brochin, said he feels caught in the middle. The state senator, who settled on his house earlier this month, said Fenwick and Kidd have asked him to play the role of mediator.
Brochin said he broached the idea with the community association as an impartial new resident, who sees both sides of the issue but has no say as a state legislator.
Taylor said the association wants to let the Board of Appeals process play out before considering Brochin's offer.
"We're still holding that door open," she said.
Schmidt said Kidd and Fenwick are "willing to make improvements to another property in Cockeysville to enhance the community," such as rehabbing recreation fields in the area, in exchange for use of the car wash site.
"We're open to suggestions," Schmidt said.
"I'm here if they need me," Brochin said. He warned that going to court could cost the community thousands of dollars.
"They need to start a dialogue," he said.
But Kach worries that the issue could drag on for years.
"I don't think the community is going to give up fighting this," he said.
Gerber echoed those sentiments.
"We are not giving up the fight," she said.