East side, west side congestion

September 11, 1992

Two separate development proposals in Baltimore County -- east side and west side -- illustrate the pitfalls of planning construction while paying little heed to the potential impact on local traffic and parking.

County agencies last month approved a plan by developer Larry Macks to build a 140,000-square-foot store (rumored to be a Wal-Mart) off the new White Marsh Boulevard. In hurrying approval for the Macks plan, the county tried out its fledgling fast-track process for business proposals.

Trouble is, the county moved so fast that it approved the plan before receiving notification from the State Highway Administration (SHA) that the project would make traffic congestion worse in an area where driving is already a hassle.

The county's error was compounded by a shoulder-shrugging response from SHA officials, who now say they'll have Mr. Macks install double turn-lanes at his property's entrance. But even this adjustment might not help traffic flow much better than it currently does, state officials concede.

Our beef is less with the Macks plan than with government officials, who should withhold approval of such proposals until their impact on traffic, parking and other infrastructure has been scrutinized and provided for. The county and the state failed to take these necessary steps in dealing with the Macks project. We hope their failure won't come back to haunt them and local commuters.

On the west side of the county, similar problems could arise from a project to upgrade the Pikesville Shopping Center on Reisterstown Road.

The developers, Pikesville Partnership, seek a variance so they would have to provide only 217 of the 384 parking spots that zoning would normally demand for the three-tiered, 81,000-square-foot facility. Because many of the shopping center's customers will arrive on foot, fewer parking spaces will be required, the developers say.

Members of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce and county officials don't buy that argument, and with good cause. They worry that granting the variance would create a parking crunch harmful to other area retailers. As it is, parking is at a premium along the Reisterstown Road corridor, and traffic at rush hour is not a whole lot better there than on Belair Road in White Marsh.

Discussions of the shopping center upgrade are ongoing, so county officials could yet insist on the proper amount of parking space. Over in White Marsh, though, it could be that the proverbial horse is already out of the barn -- or maybe we should say the car is out of the garage.

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