Route 100 alignment approved Resident designed winning proposal

July 23, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Grudgingly but nearly unanimously, Howard County elected officials supported last night a Route 100 alignment designed by a day care provider whose property was threatened by the planned six-lane highway.

Faced with a choice preferred by federal regulators -- who would not permit an alignment local elected officials chose in 1987 -- or one that the state's chief planner said might delay the highway another two years, all but two officials chose the former.

"It makes the best of a very bad situation that the county has gotten into through lack of foresight and very bad planning," said Del. John S. Morgan.

The recommendation now goes to State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff, who is nearly certain to concur. Highway planners estimate that construction will begin in 1997 and will be completed in about three years.

Mr. Morgan's District 13B includes both Hunt Country Estates, which supported the winning "Lazy S" alignment, and Montgomery Run condominiums, which supported a northern route.

The Lazy S was named by Valerie McGuire, a resident of Hunt Country Estates in southern Ellicott City who designed it in 15 hours on her kitchen table in response to a challenge by Mr. Kassoff.

The northern route would have required tearing down the homes of two of Ms. McGuire's neighbors and would have placed the highway at the edge of her property.

"I've had my fingers crossed the whole time," Ms. McGuire said after the meeting. "I want to get my life back. For 21 months, I have worked 80 hours a week between my job as a child care provider and working on the road."

Two County Council members, two state senators, four delegates and County Executive Charles I. Ecker voted for the Lazy S.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat whose district includes both communities, and Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, did not vote. Ms. Pendergrass said she had not received enough information to make a decision, a problem she also had with the 1987 vote. Mr. Gray said he wanted a firm commitment from the State Highway Administration to provide noise relief for Montgomery Run residents.

The other elected officials at the meeting said their support for the Lazy S was contingent on efforts to protect residents from noise. They want highway officials to provide noise barriers to shield owners of condominiums on lower floors and to buy out those on upper floors or compensate them for lost property values.

"This is really the damndest decision that I have ever had to make since I've been in public office," said Robert L. Flanagan, R-14B, despite his campaign promise to support prompt construction of Route 100.

Because so much planning of Route 100 was done in secret or in haste, "we're going to have to break promises to one group or another," said Mr. Flanagan, who cast his vote for the Lazy S.

The road, which first appeared on county plans in 1960, was last revived on the county's General Plan in 1985. In their first proposal, officials planned the road through the Hunt Country Estates community to avoid affordable housing planned for Montgomery Run. The highway was moved south after protests from Hunt Country residents, who were told their development was not on highway planning maps.

But putting the highway in the middle of the two communities placed it nearly on top of about 16 acres of federally protected wetlands of the Deep Run stream, leading to opposition from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As a result, state and federal regulatory agencies sent highway planners back to the drawing board in 1991.

State Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, D-13, praised the state for altering the Lazy S to keep it farther from Montgomery Run but criticized highway officials for not fighting hard enough for the original route.

"I will fault the state for not being aggressive enough with Fish and Wildlife. I think they've let a biologist push the whole state around," he said.

Joseph R. Rutter, the county's planning and zoning director, told officials that the county would lose up to $20 million in revenue from proposed commercial development of the R. Lee Curtis farm and the University of Maryland Horse Research Center.

But officials questioned whether the highway's impact would be so severe.

"We lost something there, sure, but we're going to go through another three years of paralysis by analysis if we don't get off the dime," said Councilman Darrel Drown, a Republican who represents Ellicott City.

Jeff Trent lives in the one Montgomery Run building that will be 26 feet closer to the highway than in the original alignment. He said he had little confidence that the SHA would comply with elected officials' noise relief demands. "Basically, the state came in and held a gun to their heads and said, 'Do it our way or we won't do it all,' " he said.

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