14 September 2007

To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to?

It looks to me that the Plaza Tower and Wegmans are becoming a planning and zoning Scylla and Charybdis visited upon our fine community. The opposition mounted (mostly by labor unions) to the Wegmans is starting to sound awful similar to the path blazed by the friends of the community Knowles/Broida/Meskin/Stolley.

At the heart of both opposition movements is text amendment changes to Final Development Plans (FDPs). In fact, in each case, the FDP change dealt with adding a permitted use. In the case of the Plaza Tower, apartments were permitted on a site zoned for Employment Center/Commercial. In the case of Wegmans, a grocery store (generally considered a commercial use) was permitted on a site zoned as industrial.

It is also of note that both parties have stated the Planning Board decisions are in opposition to the original intent of Columbia, with CoFoCoDo-ists pouring over early pictures of Columbia promotional concept models to count building floors and Wegmans opposers stating that the proposed huge grocery store would threaten the Village Centers as they are currently configured.

Knowles/Broida/Meskin/Stolley appealed to the Board of Appeals, and the Wegmans opposition currently intends to follow the same course. As these cases wind through the appeals and courts, it will certainly be interesting. It may even be possible that both cases could be before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals by this time next year.

And if this zoning situation detaches from reality and falls into the realm of the unbelievable, the Wegmans opposition could put pressure on elected officials to introduce zoning amendments to prohibit construction of a grocery store greater than 60,000 square feet (including those grocery stores undergoing judicial review) until a master plan is developed for the Sieling Industrial Park.

That kind of thing couldn’t happen, could it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If by "that kind of thing", you mean the legislative branch requiring sufficient time for the judicial branch to fully review interpretations and application of statute by the executive branch (and related public objections thereto) when dealing with very large projects that have multiple impacts on County communities, then, not only could it happen, there's good reason to expect that it should. Checks and balances are one of our best protections against frailties, imperfections, and abuses in those institutions meant to serve the public good.

To permit a variance to zoning for a large grocery close enough to bleed business from multiple village centers, yet far enough away to require more and longer auto traffic, is certainly concerning, especially for families living near village centers and the many other local businesses in those village centers that've seen groceries pull out in the past. Such a grocery would certainly enhance shopping choices for some, but for those of modest means who may see their village grocery disappear, it may look far more like an affordable housing issue if it results in costing them time, money, and possibly the ability to continue living in Columbia.