A highway design drawn up by a day care mother on a legal pad emerged last week as a likely alternative to bitterly contested plans for Route 100 through southern Ellicott City.
"I am glad that everyone seemed to like the lazy S," said Valerie McGuire, a Fetlock Court resident who runs a day care operation out of her home. She said she spent 15 to 20 hours designing the plan.
Her drawing of a curve goes further in avoiding homes and federally protected wetlands than any of the other seven plans presented during a public meeting Wednesday.
Last October, the State Highway Administration told residents in McGuire's Hunt Country Estates neighborhood that to save 2.55 acres of wetlands, it probably would have to move the planned highway 150 feet in their direction.
The state would buy McGuire's home and five others that would be close to the highway. Two other homes would have to be torn down.
McGuire said earlier this month that she did not believe County Executive Charles I. Ecker had enough information when he announced support for the SHA proposal.
After seeing McGuire's plan, Ecker warmed up to her idea.
"This lazy S looks good. It does not displace anybody, it's cheaper for the state and its cheaper for the county to build," Ecker said at the SHA presentation.
He stopped short of an endorsement until public hearings on the routes.
Hearings will not be scheduled until state highway engineers determine what changes may have to be made to meet federal environment standards. How long that will take is uncertain, said project engineer Mark Crampton.
Engineers also must find out if the Curtis-Shipley Farm, which the lazy S would go through, is eligible for historic status and the federal protections that come with it.
Besides veering around homes, McGuire's plan would harm only 2.8 acres, compared to the 6.6 acres for the plan adopted by SHA in 1987 and 4.5 acres for the plan proposed in October.
"Basically it was just logic. There's more land on the other side of the creek, and you're able to set the right of way on that side," McGuire said.
That logic was not lost on federal regulators who were at Wednesday's presentation.
Bill Schultz, a biologist with the U.S. Fishand Wildlife service, said the agency favored the lazy S and anotherplan proposed earlier by McGuire and her neighbors.
The second plan drew heavy opposition from residents of more than 550 units of theVillages of Montgomery Run, located across the Deep Run stream that the federal government is protecting.
That opposition and the belief that the state should study as many options as possible prompted McGuire to work on the lazy S last November.
She used the same maximum degree of curvature the SHA had used on other plans to send the highway sharply south.
It then would curve east to cross Deep Run about the same place Old Montgomery Road crosses the stream.
The southward curve did not please everyone on Wednesday, however.
CindyPowell said the bedroom window of her Montgomery Run condominium would be about 100 feet from the highway if the lazy S is adopted. When she bought her unit 2 1/2 years ago, she was told by the SHA it wouldbe 1,200 feet away.
"I would rather sell out to the state, let them condemn our property, than for them to come so close and destroy, more or less, my investment," she said.
The morning after she saw the plan, she had her property listed. Three neighbors already have sold their units.
Jeff Wellen, who owns one of the two houses threatened by last year's SHA proposal, wants the matter to be resolved.
Wellen, who fought to have the highway moved 150 feet away from hishome back in 1987, fears his family may face another agonizing period of uncertainty.
"At this point, we don't care about losing our home or not," Wellen said. "All we care about is knowing what's going on."