River Glen is offered dirt berm

April 13, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

In the comfortable neighborhood of River Glen, one can find houses that have vaulted ceilings with skylights and two-story, rough-stone walls above indoor fountains.

But there's one thing residents don't have, and last night the State Highway Administration promised to give it to them.

Dirt. Lots of it.

"We have 370,000 cubic yards of material," explained Doug Rose, SHA District 7 engineer.

"It's not dirt," he said later. "We like to call it soil."

Members of the community of 110 families, whose houses are near the south side of Route 32 at the interchange with U.S. 29, are hoping the dirt will make their world a little quieter and a little safer. With it, Mr. Rose told about 18 residents at a community meeting, a berm about 10 feet higher than the surface of Route 32 could be built "at little or no charge to the state."

The reason the state can be so generous with the dirt is that less than a mile up the road, contractors are digging up tons of the stuff to build a wider, straighter Route 32.

"I think it's a great idea," said George R. Lesznar, whose property backs up to Route 32. "I want the security and the sound barrier. . . . It's going to benefit everybody."

In addition to building a berm that could be as wide as 75 feet, depending on how much land neighboring homeowners are willing to allow the berm-building to disturb, the state will install a 6-foot-high chain-link fence and plant a variety of trees atop the berm.

Several residents said that because of the September 1992 carjacking in which Pam Basu of North Laurel was killed by a car-jacker who had been stranded on Interstate 95, safety was their main concern.

"Because [motorists] see our houses, we're more vulnerable. We've read about these things in the newspaper, and we know that we could be next," Jean Singer said.

Ms. Singer and her husband, Harvey, sponsored last night's meeting, which included SHA representatives, state Del. Virginia Thomas, D-13A, and County Councilman Paul Farragut, D-4th.

"We didn't get them out here because of the noise," said Greg Fox, a River Glen resident. "We knew when we moved here what the situation was. We got them out here because of security."

Residents told of being awakened by people knocking on their doors claiming to be stranded motorists. Sometimes, said Brian Joseph, president of the homeowners association, residents "hand them remote phones because they want to help people" but are too cautious to open their doors.

Security concerns reached a crisis stage March 4, when police cruisers swarmed into the neighborhood and a helicopter flew overhead in pursuit of a youth who was trying to escape sheriff's deputies.

"They ended up handcuffing him in front of the kindergartners at the bus stop," Mr. Joseph said.

Some residents said they would prefer a wooden fence, but Mr. Rose said the community would have to come up with the additional $53 a foot such a fence would cost.

The 1,600-foot-long fence would then cost residents more than $84,000.

Unfortunately for some residents, the dirt will result in haves and have-nots.

"I think it's great. It's a good idea. We have excess soil, and we can get if for next to nothing," said Carl M. Smith. "But it doesn't benefit us because it stops at our house."

The reason Mr. Smith fears he will not get his share of dirt is that his property and several others near the ramp from eastbound Route 32 to southbound U.S. 29 are next to what appear to be federally protected wetlands.

Now the residents who attended the meeting will have to convince their neighbors that they need dirt.

If they don't decide within about three weeks what they want the SHA to do, the opportunity might slip away, Mr. Rose warned.

"Most of the soil is spoken for," he said. "There's other areas along [Route] 32 where we're going to put berms in."

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