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Greyhound bus stop special exception denied by Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals

February 03, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Greyhound Bus Station located in Foxshire Plaza at Hub City Shippers.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

The Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals has denied a special exception that would have enabled a Greyhound bus stop to continue operating at Foxshire Plaza Shopping Center at 1432 Dual Highway outside of Hagerstown.

The zoning appeals board decision followed a Jan. 4 public hearing, during which residents living in the Foxshire Plaza area spoke out against the station being allowed to operate at the current location.

Nearby residents testified at the public hearing and employees of stores in the plaza, interviewed by The Herald-Mail, described incidents of late-night loitering, littering, theft, drinking in the parking lot, and pubic urination and defecation involving riders using the Greyhound bus stop.

The special exception had been requested by officials of Washco Developments Inc., owner of Foxshire Plaza. Sassan Shaool of Washco said he attended the meeting on behalf of his lessee, Jeff Paules, a Greyhound ticket agent who operates Hub City Shippers out of the plaza.

“They were already on Dual Highway,” Shaool said in a telephone interview. “There’s a need for a bus station in Washington County.”

Foxshire Plaza is zoned Business General, a zoning category that does not permit the operation of a bus station, according to documents from the Washington County Department of Planning and Zoning.

Shaool said he was aware of Paules’ intent when he leased the property.

“I don’t think he was off base by opening a (bus stop) there,” Shaool said. “He feels like he’s being singled out.”

He pointed out that the zoning designation permits a truck terminal, but not a bus stop.

The county was never notified of Hub City Shippers’ intent to operate a bus station out of the parking lot, and learned about the move after complaints were lodged, Assistant County Attorney Kirk Downey said.

“To come in compliance with the zoning ordinance, the use needs to cease,” Downey said.

The Greyhound stop has been at Foxshire Plaza since Nov. 14, 2011, when Hub City Shippers made the move from 354 Dual Highway, Paules said in a recent telephone interview.

Paules said Hub City Shippers became a Greyhound affiliate in December 2010, when the shipping company was at 354 Dual Highway, because the bus liner offered shipping services. Prior to that, the bus station was on Sharpsburg Pike.

Jennifer Smith, director of Washington County plan review and permitting, testified at the Jan. 4 hearing that “parking space may not be adequate for the proposed use, and indicated that a parking study and site plan would be required,” according to the zoning appeals board’s finding of facts.

“She further testified that, pursuant to the building code, 24-hour restroom facilities are not currently available,” the finding of facts said. “She also noted that Hub City Shippers closes at 6 p.m.”

The appeals board, in denying the exception, said: “The appellant failed to meet its burden for a special exception.”

The argument that a bus stop is functionally similar to a truck terminal “is unpersuasive,” the board found. Truck deliveries are “an incidental component of the principal use of the property” and “testimony showed specifically that the parking and traffic facilities at the site were particularly ill-suited to accommodate additional passenger parking and large bus traffic.”

And, the board said, “the record was replete with testimony that showed the adverse effects of this use were particularly acute .... Parking is inadequate, as is the general lack of facilities to accommodate bus passengers, including restroom facilities, waiting facilities and handicapped access.”

As a result, the board found, “prospective passengers are urinating and sleeping in public areas” and “have, on occasion, apparently made lewd comments to shoppers or store employees or otherwise engaged in harassing behavior.”


Businesses complain

Employees of the Foxshire Plaza recently talked to The Herald-Mail about their concerns.

One employee, who spoke on a condition of anonymity, said she’s noticed increased incidences of theft in the store where she works. She said some employees are “scared half to death” to work at night because of people standing around the store, which closes at 9 p.m.

The woman said she’s let bus passengers use her phone to call someone to pick them up because the person picking them up didn’t know where the bus would drop them off.

Trash left in the parking lot — including empty alcoholic beverage containers — has become a problem, especially during the holiday season when ridership seemed to increase, she said.

An employee of another business, who also spoke anonymously because she didn’t have permission from her employer to be interviewed, said she has noticed crowds of people in the parking lots late in the evening before pickups and after drop-offs. People have come in asking where to find the ticket office, she said.

“It just kind of makes you uncomfortable,” that employee said, just before the 9:20 p.m. westbound bus arrived at the side of the plaza on a recent Wednesday.

The turn into the parking lot just off Howell Road is very tight, she said.

Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said in late January that police had received four complaints from the area dating back to July 2011 — two for loitering, one to check on the well-being of a bus traveler and one for a dispute on a bus.

“One was recent. Others were more like in the fall,” Mullendore said. “I have not seen a lot of activity there, as far as calls. I’m not saying people aren’t seeing things and getting frustrated. But they aren’t calling the police for it.”


Confused travelers

The changes in location have confused travelers, according to four men who were waiting for a bus recently. It’s difficult to find the office nestled near the middle of the plaza next to a spiral staircase, they said. Greyhound signage can be seen in front of the shippers office and in the front window, but nowhere else.

Paules, who is looking for a place to move his business, said he had placed signs along Dual Highway, but had to remove them at county orders. He said he has another location in mind and might move the business back inside the Hagerstown city limits, as soon as March.

At one time, Greyhound had a terminal in downtown Hagerstown, but that’s a thing of the past, Paules said. The bus liner has been contracting many of its company-owned locations out to local businesses in their smaller markets, which in turn earn a commission on ticket sales, he said.

“It’s a way to cut down costs for them,” Paules said in an email. “Greyhound would never put in a traditional bus terminal in Hagerstown.”

Greyhound spokeswoman Jen Biddinger said in an email the company has not received complaints about the lack of a sheltered waiting area, and there are no plans to build a permanent station.

Paules said Greyhound has something to offer the community. Many local agencies, such as social services, homeless shelters and area churches, use Greyhound when needed, he said.

“Many military personnel use Greyhound to go back and forth from their bases,” Paules said. “It’s a good cheap mode of transportation and, for the most part, pretty reliable, too.

“It’s a service that the city needs,” he said.

Paules said up-to-date information can be found on the Hub City Shippers website and Facebook page, or by visiting www.greyhound.com. However, Paules warned that a phone number found on Greyhound’s website inaccurately tells callers the Hagerstown stop is still located on Sharpsburg Pike.

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