Neighbors quarrel over 'safety' versus 'expediency' in road-closing proposal Property values may be at stake

November 16, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Neighbor opposed neighbor last night during a Howard County Council hearing on the closing of a portion of Diamondback Drive near the intersection of U.S. 29.

The closing is "unnecessary and unwarranted," said Joan Spamer, a Diamondback Drive resident.

John Roberts, who lives down the block and across the street from Ms. Spamer, said the closing is warranted and necessary to stop people from outside the neighborhood who are using it as a thoroughfare.

Mr. Roberts said vehicles getting off U.S. 29 exceed the speed limit by 15 mph to 25 mph on what he described as "a very short stretch of residential street." There are no sidewalks and pedestrians have a difficult time, he said. Also, easy access to U.S. 29 has made the neighborhood more vulnerable to crime, Mr. Roberts said.

"The issue is safety," said Jack Flanagan, a Dalton Drive resident who lives nearest the Diamondback-U.S. 29 intersection. "Proponents of keeping the road open can't be serious when choosing expedience over safety," he said.

"I wouldn't feel comfortable if this resolution were defeated for expediency and a child were injured," he said, by a speeding car.

But Frank Chase, who also lives on nearby Dalton Drive, said preserving safety is his reason for wanting to keep the road open.

Emergency vehicles will be delayed getting into the neighborhood, he said. An ambulance had twice made calls to pick up an elderly woman on his street, Mr. Chase said, and if the road had been closed, she might have died. It would take three to five minutes longer to get into the neighborhood if the road were closed, he said.

Mr. Chase also worried that closing the road would lower property values.

He said a real estate agent had told him property values would drop $1,000 to $2,500 per residence if residents no longer had access to U.S. 29.

Mr. Roberts said he believed values would increase because there would be less noise and the neighborhood would be safer.

The road closing was one of 17 pieces of legislation on last night's council agenda. It was easily the most controversial, with more than 25 people waiting late into the night to speak on the resolution.

Representatives of County Executive Charles I. Ecker told the council the road closing is consistent with the county's 1990 General Plan and would enhance traffic safety in the area.

Earlier, Mary Lou George of Columbia, spoke in favor of a bill that would double the fines pet owners pay when they don't clean up after their pets.

Ms. George told the council that pets in the Clock Tower Lane area have so soiled the neighborhood that children cannot play in parks, playgrounds, or lay down their books while waiting for school buses.

In addition to the fines, which would range from $50 to $250 for civil penalties and could bring a jail term of 30 days for criminal violations, Ms. George would like the county to post signs throughout her east Columbia neighborhood reminding owners to pick up after their pets.

The council also heard testimony on a bill that would fine cable television franchise holders for poor service. Tom Beach of Comcast and John Norcutt of Mid-Atlantic Cable complained that the fines were excessive.

"This is the wrong way to go," Mr. Beach told the council. He and Mr. Norcutt said they agreed with most of the performance requirements in the bill, but objected to the fines, which could range from $50 to $1,000 for repeated infractions such as failure to answer a telephone in 30 seconds.

Mr. Norcutt said he didn't think the county's 911 emergency service is required to answer in 30 seconds. "We generally favor what the bill calls for," he said. "The devil is in the details."

Earlier, consumer advocate Richard F. Kirchner called for the county to provide an ombudsman to help residents initiate justifiable complaints against cable companies. Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, assured Mr. Kirchner he would do what he could to establish such an office.

The council will hold a work session Monday on the legislation it considered last night and vote on it Dec. 6.

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