Plans to develop a shopping center next to the Enchanted Forest amusement park in Ellicott City are moving closer to approval from Howard County planners, which could set the project on course for a 1992 opening.
Marsha McLaughlin, chief of the county's community planning and land development division, said most of the technical problems that delayed approval of the site development plan have been resolved and the project only needs the endorsement of county health and public works officials.
The project was submitted to the county's Department of Planning and Zoning in September 1989, but reviews by local and state officials found that it needed more detailed plans for tree preservation, wetland protection, sediment erosion control and water quality preservation.
"This is fairly complicated because this is a big project and there is a lot of earth work being done," McLaughlin said.
JHP Development, of Towson, which is developing the 32-acre site along U.S. 40 about 15 miles west of Baltimore, submitted revised plans last July 26, which brought less comment from planners.
JHP bought the site in December 1988. It plans to renovate the amusement park and build a shopping center. The developer had planned to open the complex next year, but it is expected to take a year to construct, which would make it unlikely to open before 1992.
Jeffrey Pechtner, a company official, declined comment on the project.
Enchanted Forest has not opened the last two summers, and last January, two juveniles were arrested for arson after a two-story building there known as Robin Hood's Barn was set on fire and sustained $75,000 in damage.
For the past several months, heavy machinery has rolled across the land daily to move tons of dirt to prepare the area for construction.
Under plans submitted to the county Department of Planning and Zoning, the developer wants to erect seven buildings on the site that have a combined total of 138,166 square feet. It would include a 48,644-square-foot grocery store and several other shops north of U.S. 40 and a 2,500-square-foot bank on five acres south of the highway. The grocery store would anchor the shopping center.
The smaller parcel would be used mostly for 319 parking spaces that park patrons can use during the amusement park's summer season. The main parcel would have parking for 694 automobiles.
Residents of the adjacent Bethany Woods community initially opposed plans to build the shopping center, but they met with company officials, who agreed not to expand development and to plant trees to serve as a buffer.
"From what I can see now, it doesn't look like it's going to be that bad," said resident Pat Kominiski.
The developer plans to keep the amusement park attractions that have brought joy to millions of young children since it was opened in 1954 by the late Howard E. Harrison.
When the project is completed, young children once again will be able to enjoy a theme park where -- while lacking the hair-raising rides of large amusement parks -- storybook characters will come to life in youthful imaginations.
Some features are: Huck Finn's Fishing Hole, Humpty Dumpty's Wall, Robinson Crusoe's Island, Snow White's House, the Gingerbread House, Cinderella's Castle and Jungle Land.
At Enchanted Forest's peak of popularity, 300,000 people a year visited the park during its six-month season. Attendance waned over the years to about 125,000 to 150,000 as larger and more modern parks such as Kings Dominion were built.