Light rail extension stirs discord No, thank you, says Scuba Hut owner

Why not? asks computer store owner GLEN BURNIE

March 03, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

When Bill Sarro thinks of the light rail line coming into downtown Glen Burnie, he suspects that even if there's a station across Delaware Avenue from his Scuba Hut store, he won't see customers toting their 35-pound oxygen tanks on the train to him.

"Now, if you were to buy a mask, sure, or a computer game. But there are other places" that sell the same wares, he said. "There's a dog-grooming place [DiamonDogs]; you wouldn't carry your dog on the train."

Mr. Sarro is among the people who wonder how extending the light rail line from Cromwell Station, at Dorsey Road and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard, will help the town center area and its businesses.

The Mass Transit Administration last week released a study -- one that it acknowledges is superficial -- identifying seven possible routes with four possible station sites within a few blocks of Arundel Center North. Publication of the study is reheating arguments over what purpose extending the light rail would serve, whom it would serve and where it should go as the line makes its way from Baltimore toward Annapolis.

"Is the light rail going to bring criminals down to the heart of Glen Burnie to attend District Court?" a skeptical Mr. Sarro asked. "Is it going to bring people to the Arundel Center North, a dead office building? Is it going to bring senior citizens to visit senior citizens?"

Taking the opposite viewpoint is Mr. Sarro's business neighbor, Chuck Parlato, owner of Arundel Computers. While he has no illusions about anyone carting a broken PC to his shop on the light rail, he speculated that anything that would bring people to the heart of the business core would help revitalize it.

"If you are going to make downtown Glen Burnie into a hub -- a business, residential and activities hub -- of North County, then the light rail will be invaluable," Mr. Parlato said. "How could it not help the businesses?"

The North Arundel Chamber of Commerce's Town Center Committee asked for the study last summer in conjunction with its push to see the county redevelop the 5.6-acre Superblock. It believes bringing light rail that extra three-quarters of a mile into the downtown area could be a critical factor in wooing businesses there.

Construction costs of the rail extension, excluding land acquisition, environmental protection and similar measures, are estimated to total at least $10 million.

Engineer Danny Boyd is a member of the Town Center Committee and of the group helping the county devise a request for proposal (RFP) for redevelopment of the Superblock. He predicted that bringing light rail to the area would enhance the value of that property because businesses and commuters would want the convenience. The RFP committee will mention the potential for light rail in the request for proposals.

Like Mr. Boyd and other business owners, Mr. Parlato was not particular about which route the rail line would take or exactly where the station would go.

But many nearby residents have no intention of having light rail on or near their property or on the Baltimore-Annapolis Trail Park. Since being developed as a a hiker-biker path from Glen Burnie to Annapolis, the old Baltimore-Annapolis Railroad right-of-way has been used by thousands of people each year.

"I wouldn't like it; we face the trail," said Albert Bartlinski Sr., whose grandchildren run out of his Greenway home to play on the trail. "It just doesn't look aesthetically pleasing."

Four of the alternative routes use the bike path. The rail would take about 20 feet of the trail, now 65 feet wide.

The Glen Burnie Improvement Association (GBIA) does not oppose bringing light rail to the downtown area, as long as it's not on the bike path. But one of the routes ends with a station on the GBIA's carnival grounds.

MTA spokesman Frank Starr said the state agency did not make outside inquiries about acquiring land or community opposition to particular routes because the study was strictly a conceptual starting point for discussion, though area congressman have vowed to push for federal funds.

There's no money budgeted or requested for the extension or for doing serious studies on one. He estimated it would take at least five years to move from starting the studies to finishing construction.

Four MTA officials are to be at the GBIA meeting Tuesday night to answer questions about the study.

State Sen. Michael Wagner, a Ferndale Democrat, said he has no intention of seeking funding for an extension until the community agrees on a route. The proposed routes from Cromwell Station -- each of which comes with its own set of problems, from environmental concerns to cutting through buildings -- are:

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