The town council will be taking written comments until Monday, Feb. 1, on a proposed zoning text amendment that would allow home improvement centers to exceed 65,000 square feet.
The 65,000-square-foot size limit for major retail uses does not include stores that expand, redevelop, or are adjacent to shopping centers approved before Aug. 25, 2004. Ordinance No. 756 would add “home improvement centers” as a use that is not subject to the size limit.
The Easton Planning and Zoning Commission considered the proposed text amendment at its November meeting and unanimously recommended the town council deny the request. Changes to the town’s size limit on retail stores should only be considered during the upcoming comprehensive plan review, the commission urged.
The town will start its review and update of the comprehensive plan this year, with the update expected to be complete by 2023.
The zoning text amendment, sought by the Gannon Family Limited Partnership, has prompted speculation that Home Depot is again interested in building a store in Easton.
During the town’s Jan. 19 hearing on Ordinance 756, a representative for the family partnership, said a home improvement center was interested in purchasing property at U.S. Route 50 and Chapel Road, but would want to build a store larger than the current 65,000-square-foot limit. The partnership then applied for a zoning text amendment to allow for a larger size for home improvement centers.
Attorney Zach Smith said there are no existing sites in town that would readily work for the home improvement center and the store also would like to be on the east side of U.S. Route 50 where future growth is planned.
Approving the ordinance, Smith said, would simply allow the home improvement center to “proceed with a design, bring that design forward to the town council, the town council can lay it out to the public and we can have a robust discussion in the context of an actual concrete plan about the pros and cons of a home improvement center.
“I guess if you are of the mind that ‘no way, no how, we don’t want another home improvement center in Easton,’ then there’s no point in making that change as it is not necessary,” he said. “And certainly I suspect there are folks in our community that have that opinion. I also think there are probably folks in our community who would say, ‘it can’t get here soon enough, open the door, let’s bring ’em in.'”
Tom Alspach of the Talbot Preservation Alliance said the proposed text amendment “raises what has been over the last 20, 25 years probably the most contentious, controversial issue regarding development that the town of Easton has faced.”
Alspach said the issue started in the late 1990s when the town adopted a moratorium on big box developments. Big box stores were addressed in the 2004 and 2010 comprehensive plans and subsequent zoning ordinances.
“This is not some minor matter that we are being asked to tweak in the town ordinance,” Alspach said. “This is something that goes to the very heart of how this town should develop in terms of its commercial enterprises ….”
Written comments on Ordinance 756 may be emailed to the town council at mayor&council@EastonMD.gov.DraftOrd756