Two way, one way or no way?

May 22, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

A short but controversial segment of Emerald Drive in Bel Air has neighbors at war with one another and the County Council on the brink of a decision that promises to be unpopular no matter what the vote.

The issue will come before the council Tuesday evening at a public hearing on a resolution introduced by Councilwoman Theresa Pierno, a District C Democrat, to close the portion of Emerald Drive that connects the neighborhoods of Brentwood Park and Watervale.

The 120-foot road, which extends Watervale's Emerald Drive north to intersect with Lancaster Drive in Brentwood Park, was opened in November 1990 one-way north.

The one-way status was a concession by the county to Watervale residents who had objected that the increase in traffic from Brentwood Park would create hazards.

But the compromise prevents Brentwood Park residents from leaving their neighborhood to the south, and many say it is an inconvenience to have to travel west to Red Pump Road to go south from the heavily populated area. They want the Emerald Drive extension to be made two-way, as originally designed.

At a meeting of the county's Road Closing Committee in March, members voted 4-1 to close the road after hearing public testimony. A committee vote to close the road automatically sends the issue to the County Council, which must cast an affirmative vote before any county road can be closed.

"I'm ready to push for this [closing], said Mrs. Pierno, citing two safety studies, one in 1989 and another in 1992, that have recommended closing the road.

"The one-way road has just not worked," she said. "The communities have been at war. And nobody trusts the Department of Public Works anymore. It's been handled badly for years."

The controversy dates to 1986, when Fred Ward and Associates submitted concept plans to the county for the development of Brentwood Park, an 800-home community west of Bel Air near Heavenly Waters Park.

The plan included a main road running through Brentwood Park connecting to Emerald Drive at the south end of the community. Emerald is the main north-south road running through Watervale, a pricey neighborhood of 43 homes on large lots developed off Tollgate Road in the mid-1970s and early '80s.

The Watervale Homeowners Association sent objections to the county, and in 1987 the concept designs were altered to feed most traffic into and out of the new community on other roads and to make the route to Emerald Drive more circuitous to discourage drivers.

Besides Emerald Drive, two other roads lead to Brentwood Park -- Barrymore Drive, off Red Pump Road on the west, and Brentwood Park Drive, off Vale Road, on the north.

But Emerald Drive, which runs into Tollgate Road, provides a short cut south to the busy Route 1 commercial area that includes Harford Mall. It is popular among Brentwood Park residents who violate the one-way restriction.

Proponents of the road closing have cited the potential for accidents on Emerald Drive, which has no sidewalks, and on the smaller roads in Brentwood Park that lead to it. They have talked about children playing in the streets, dangerous curves on connecting roads, poor grading, and even a fear of increased crime in their attempts to shut down the road.

But Jeffrey M. Stratmeyer, county chief of traffic and engineering, said the Department of Public Works stands by its decision that closure is not justified on safety grounds.

In a report to the Road Closing Committee in December, he said that statistics on accidents, traffic counts, pedestrian activity and travel time do not support closing the road.

"They've allowed emotionalism to overrule common sense," said Giff Nichol, a Brentwood Park resident who wants the road opened for two-way traffic.

He said the one-way restriction forces residents to detour an extra six-tenths of a mile each time they drive to Tollgate Road.

"That doesn't sound like much, but if you make two trips a day per house out of the neighborhood that adds up to 438 extra miles . . . a year," he said. "Closing the road altogether will double the inconvenience."

Brentwood Park residents protested the one-way restriction when the road opened, but county planning and zoning officials asked them to give it a few months.

That was more than three years ago, said Mr. Nichol, who said he fears the battle has become "politicized," with elected officials taking the side of proponents of the closing.

L But Lana Koontz, a Watervale resident, scoffs at that claim.

"If we had any influence, this wouldn't have gone on for years," said the vice president of the Watervale Homeowners Association. "No one has come to our aid, and we've tried to

follow the process of appeal."

A Brentwood Park resident who asked that his name not be used said, "It's not a Brentwood Park vs. Watervale issue." He said engineers tried to create a circuitous route as a solution, "and all it does is frustrate people looking for the shortest distance between two points."

He said he has been the victim of abuse from angry neighbors who have pulled signs out of the ground and thrown them on his lawn because they object to the detour.

"This issue has pitted neighbors against one another. It's a terrible situation to have to live in and we're out of options," he said.

Mr. Nichol said that the Brentwood Park community association leadership has refused to take a stand.

Mrs. Pierno said, "People don't trust anyone anymore on this issue.

"Now we have a situation where we have two studies that say close it. If we don't close it, what do we do next?" she asked.

The public hearing will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday in County Council chambers on Level A of the courthouse in Bel Air.

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