Looking Beyond the Sound Barrier HOWARD COUNTY

September 08, 1993

State officials are offering to buy at least 24 condominiums affected by construction of the proposed Route 100 extension. The state is making a good-faith effort to keep a change in its plans from degrading someone's quality of life or property value. may, in fact, be the best response that highway administrators could devise, but it's still one that benefits the state and that ultimately may hurt some individuals.

Several years ago, people purchased the Montgomery Run condominiums, knowing that the state had approved a plan for Route 100 that would not bring it close to their complex. In 1991, however, federal officials forced the state to reject those plans because they threatened wetlands. The state opted for another plan that will place part of the highway less than 200 feet from one of the condo buildings.

The state recently agreed to buy some of the units. But so far, the offer has been extended only to residents on the third floor of the affected building. The state's rationale is that even if it erects a sound barrier, it would not be high enough to shield the third-floor residences.

The homeowners on the first two floors now must decide whether they want to keep their condos if a sound barrier is erected. If 75 percent say "yes," the state won't extend a buyout offer. If 75 percent turn thumbs down, then the buyout offer will be made and no sound barrier will be built.

In case the state does purchase the units, all of them will be sold at auction, and the government expects to recoup up to 90 percent of the cost of the buyout. Plus, the State Highway Administration would avoid the $300,000 cost of constructing a barrier.

This may sit well with the owners who now have the choice of getting out, but what if there are some who don't want to follow the majority, and then wouldn't get a noise wall? Also of concern are the potential new buyers who might not fully understand how close the road will be or the fact that sound abatement will no longer be a possibility.

Condominium dwellers tend to be first-time home buyers, often not well versed on the pitfalls of purchasing real estate. When the state auctions these units, it must see that these buyers are dealt with openly and fairly. The state is trying hard to right a wrong in this case but, nevertheless, someone could be hurt down the line.

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