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Howard County considers gas station restrictions

COLUMBIA — Howard County planning officials are considering whether to place limits on new gas stations built in the county.

WBAL Radio reports the planning board is holding a hearing Thursday night on a proposal that would prevent business with more than four gas pumps from being built within 1,000 feet of an existing station. It would also restrict new gas stations from being built near schools, parks or environmentally sensitive areas.

The Howard County Independent Business Association, which includes some gas stations, has been seeking the change. But the county’s planning director, Marsha McLaughlin, is recommending that the planning board reject the proposed restrictions. She said there is “no compelling reason” to change the current restrictions.

Another business coalition, led by Royal Farms, is opposing the change. A spokesman said the convenience store chain is considering adding new stores in Howard County but has no definite building plans.

Opponents released an economic study by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University showing that gasoline prices in Howard County are among the highest in Maryland because of the county’s current restrictions on gas stations. The study found the average price of gas in Howard County in 2012 was $3.65 per gallon, and only Montgomery County had a higher average at $3.70 per gallon.

Dr. Darius Irani, the institute’s executive director, said Howard County’s current zoning restrictions limit where gas stations can be placed, helping to drive up prices.

Former Howard and Anne Arundel County Planning Director Joe Rutter also is opposing the measure, saying it would discourage development of new supermarkets, convenience stores or car washes that also sell gasoline.

“It flies in the face of wanting redevelopment that would be more mixed use, and attractive than the older facilities,” Rutter said.