Krystal BuskirkJessica Ewing, Dave Schroeder, Terry Schroeder and Laura Quevedo testified before the administrative hearing office that a gas station at the intersection of Mountain Road and Edwin Raynor Boulevard would not be a benefit to Pasadena.
No Commercial Development At Deerfield
So many people said they weren’t going to win. It was a lost cause. Their efforts were a big waste of time.
However, a group of residents from Deerfield and Chesterfield were determined to have their testimony heard by the Anne Arundel County Office of Administrative Hearings regarding a rezoning request at the intersection of Mountain Road and Edwin Raynor Boulevard.
“We all go directly through this intersection to go just about everywhere we need to go,” said Jessica Ewing from Chesterfield. “I’ve got a 12-year-old, so in a few short years, I’m going to have a 16-year-old driving through this intersection to get to school. … That intersection, when you make a left-hand turn, you basically just hope you’re not going to die. It’s a bad intersection. It’s really dangerous.”
When word began to spread that Two Farms Inc., the contract purchaser of 4.89 undeveloped acres in the southeast corner of the intersection, sought a zoning reclassification from residential to commercial with the plans of building a gas station, the nearby neighborhoods took to social media to share their concerns with one another. Laura Quevedo, Theresa Schroeder and David Schroeder from Deerfield connected with Ewing, president of Chesterfield Residents LLC, via Facebook, and the four of them set to work building a case against commercial zoning at that intersection.
“We knew so confidently in our head that we were going to make it work, and we pushed ahead,” said Quevedo. “Nothing’s ever going to happen if you don’t try.”
The rezoning request went before Doug Hollman, administrative hearing officer, on January 17. Recommending approval was Robert Konowal from the Office of Planning and Zoning, who testified that the request was justified because of a mistake made during comprehensive rezoning in 2004, in which the Pasadena Marley Neck Small Area Plan classified the commercial land across Mountain Road as medium-density residential. According to the Administrative Hearing Decision, Konowal argued that had the county council “known the subject property directly across the street was designated for commercial purposes, the council would have considered a commercial designation for the subject property.”
Protestants included the Schroeders, Quevedo and Ewing along with a group of other people who testified in person. Theresa Schroeder presented a petition signed by 55 households in opposition, and David Schroeder testified that there were 21 commercial properties for sale in the area and seven gas stations within a mile of the subject property.
Other witnesses expressed that development of the property was not necessary, would increase traffic congestion and pose health problems. “I like the way the hearing officer was interested in what people had to say from both sides,” Quevedo said. “You could tell he didn’t have his mind made up from the beginning. He was honestly interested.”
Ultimately, Hollman rejected the rezoning request, concluding that the property is and always was meant to be zoned residential. Hollman declined comment, but a full summary of the decision — including that of the testimony provided by the applicant and the protestants — can be found in the archive at www.aacounty.org/departments/admin-hearings.
“This was a huge win for people of any area versus development,” Ewing observed.
Not everyone, however, is inclined to think that the rezoning rejection is a win for Pasadena. Councilman Derek Fink, who has spoken out against continued overdevelopment in Pasadena, explained that if the site remains R5 residential zoning, it could mean even more traffic to the area.
“I’ve been an absolute advocate for no more residential in Pasadena; I don’t want to see any more development as far as residences go,” he said. “That property could essentially put 30 more homes right there at that intersection. … My worry is that if zoning doesn’t go through, we’ll end up seeing more houses there. If the decision is to leave it the way it is, I would love that, but unfortunately, I don’t think that’s an option. … All the advocates who stood up and said, ‘Don’t support this upzoning,’ are going to be upset when the homes go in.”
A Pasadena resident himself, Fink crosses the intersection of Mountain and Raynor almost daily and understands first-hand the stress of it. But his reasoning is that a gas station would bring less congestion than a 30-home neighborhood. “If you put a gas station there, it’s not going to increase traffic, and nobody from Severna Park is going to drive here to buy gas here,” he said. “So you’ll have the current traffic that’s already there pulling in to buy gas.”
Ewing maintains that neither residential nor commercial development will be a benefit to Pasadena. “We’re at maximum capacity … We can’t take any more here,” she said. “That may change if the infrastructure changes, but with the current infrastructure, we are at capacity. We can’t take any more development, residential or commercial.”
She hopes that groups such as the Greater Pasadena Council (GPC), which gives neighborhood associations and individuals a united voice in such situations, might be a boon in that regard. “That’s the exact kind of group that needs to happen because what you get is people from every different community coming together for causes,” she said. “GPC or something like GPC would be a great service to residents of Pasadena.”
After interest and participation dwindled for months, GPC took a vote in January to put its operations “into sleep mode,” as chairman Allan Straughan put it. However, board member Sam Tanner and a few other residents hope to continue GPC. “I love [Tanner’s] enthusiasm; I’d love to see GPC continue and be a viable organization,” Straughan said, though he added, “The community’s got to be involved for it to be effective.”
Still, the rejection of the Deerfield rezoning is heartening for some. As Tanner observed, citizen input “absolutely” influenced the decision. “If we don’t oppose it, it’s going to get run through the process and probably get accepted,” he said.
He credited Ewing as being the leader behind the Deerfield decision, but he hopes GPC can be a similar unifying force for issues that arise in the future. “We’re attempting to be a resource for all residents in the area of Pasadena,” he said. “We’re a way to gather all the voices of the residents together and amplify those voices and make them be heard. We want to better Pasadena for residents and businesses.”
That’s not to suggest, however, that GPC is against development. “We support action that can improve Pasadena — we’re not pro-development or anti-development. We just want the county to go by the Small Area Plan or the General Development Plan,” he said. “If the law says this land is residential, it should be used for residential.”
Citizens who want to stay updated on the activities of GPC, or who need guidance with a certain problem, can visit www.greaterpasadenacouncil.weebly.com or find and like “Greater Pasadena Council” on Facebook. The hope, according to Tanner and Ewing, is that GPC can lead to more successes for citizen concerns in the future.
“We can’t take back what’s done, but we can stop it from going further, and we do that by working together,” Ewing said. “We do that by coming together as a large group of communities. … When communities come together and work as a group, your voices are stronger than you could ever imagine.”