Access, Environment Top River Hill Concerns

October 21, 1990|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

County planners responded Thursday to the first detailed plans submitted for River Hill, the 10th and final Columbia village, which the Rouse Company intends to move ahead with next year despite a downturn in the real estate market.

Limited traffic access and potential environmental problems were chief among the county's concerns about the proposed development.

The Rouse Co.'s initial plans pertain to about half of the area established for the River Hill village.

One phase of the project calls for 843 single-family homes to be built on 490 acres north of Route 32 and on both sides of Trotter Road. Howard Research and Development, the Rouse Co.'s Columbia development arm, plans to construct the lots on a timetable that roughly matches that of the Route 32 re-routing project, which is to be completed in 1994.

An additional 79 acres north of the first site and east of Trotter Road are being readied for 158 other single-family lots in River Hill.

The entire Village of River Hill will take from five to eight years to complete and contain about 2,600 units and two or three as-yet unnamed neighborhoods, said David E. Forester, Rouse Co. vice president and senior development director.

"We're assuming the market's going to strengthen, and we're going to be selling lots to builders next summer and fall," Forester said.

Unlike Columbia's other nine villages, with between 500 and 600 apartments and town houses, River Hill will have a small percentage of higher-density development, Forester said. Typically, about a third of a village's homes are single-family buildings, but at least 75 percent of River Hill village will be single-family homes.

HRD planners expect to gain county Department of Planning and Zoning and zoning board approval in the next few months, said Forester.

But already the county is raising concerns about potential traffic, noise and environmental problems arising from with the larger segment that is adjacent to Route 32.

Most of the county planners' concerns focus on the part of the development just north of the planned realignment of Route 32, which will have only one way out, said Cindy Mander, the county planner assigned to River Hill.

The county also is looking at the lots that would abut the new Route 32 right of way and the lack any natural barriers from highway noise, Mander said. Better preservation of forest and flood plain areas also is likely to be on the county's agenda, she added.

Once the plans are approved by a county review committee, the public will have a chance to comment on them in hearings before the county planning board. Rouse Co. vice president Al Scavo said he doubts that future passage of a growth-controlling adequate public facilities bill will pose serious problems for River Hill.

Because HRD is starting from scratch in a mostly undeveloped area, it will have to build most public facilities anyway, said Scavo.

Excluding the state-built Route 32, all roads serving the village will be built by HRD, and school capacity will be increased with the help of HRD's dedication of two school sites, said Scavo.

The Pointer's Run Elementary School is already under construction on about 15 acres at the corner of Trotter and Guilford roads, in the middle of the larger parcel being planned, Scavo said.

The other site will be dedicated for a high school, which, like those in other Columbia villages, would be built next to a village center. Although the site has yet to be pinpointed, Scavo said the center will be near the intersection of Route 108 and the new Route 32 in Clarksville.

However, that optimistic view is not shared by Joseph Rutter, deputy director of the county's Planning and Zoning Department.

The law being considered by the county council requires developers to look beyond their projects at potential problems with roads and schools, Rutter said.

While a new main road -- re-aligned Route 32 -- will serve River Hill, it will still feed into the same congested intersection at Route 32 and Cedar Lane, he said.

And extra school capacity made possible by HRD land donations might not be enough to prevent overcrowding, Rutter said.

State Highway Administration engineers are now designing the new Route 32 and officials are obtaining land for the road's right of way, said John Leslie, a project engineer with the SHA's highway design division. SHA officials will seek contractors' bids next year and the initial two-lane road is expected to be completed in 1994, Leslie said. An upgraded Cedar Lane intersection is part of that project.

When traffic needs dictate and enough money is allocated, the new road will be expanded into a four-lane, limited-access highway, he said.

Before the Planning Board in 1986 allowed apartment development in the area, Trotter Road residents objected, saying it would change the area's character. After HRD agreed to change its plans, such as moving the village center from Trotter Road to Route 108, the residents agreed to end their opposition.

Although its neighborhoods may be nameless, its street names are waiting to be mated with asphalt and concrete. In keeping with the unusual nature of Columbia's street names, the names of River Hill's streets will be taken from the poetry of Walt Whitman and James Whitcomb Riley.

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