Preserving rural look is backed

June 21, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Legislation to designate and to protect 60 scenic roads in the county received overwhelming support last night from residents, but farmers urged that safety not be sacrificed for rural scenery.

The Scenic Roads Act, proposed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, would designate 60 county roads for protection by changing regulations for new subdivisions and county public works projects.

The Howard County Citizen's Association endorsed the package of legislation but said it should have been proposed two years ago as part of growth-control measures recommended in the county's 1990 General Plan, a 20-year blueprint for growth.

"We have already lost many scenic roads due to lack of protection. Don't lose any more by delaying this legislation," association president Bill Waff said at a County Council hearing last night.

The legislation would loosen the requirements to widen and to straighten roads along the entire length of a new subdivision and would encourage developers to preserve trees near roads.

Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of planning and zoning, cautioned that the proposal would not make new subdivisions invisible.

"These guidelines are not going to be magic, but they are going to minimize [the visual impact of new development]," Ms. McLaughlin said.

With the legislation, county planners would have more leverage to keep developers from building "monumental entrances" to developments that would spoil the rural character of a road, she said. Instead, developers would be encouraged to use a wooden rail gate and fence, for example.

The package of legislation was given enthusiastic support by representatives of community groups from historic Ellicott City, where historic streets would receive the "scenic" designation; from the Bonnie Branch-Ilchester Road areas, where forested stream valley roads would be protected, and from west county residents seeking protection for rural roads.

Several farmers gave their grudging support to the legislation, listing more potential problems than benefits.

Marion Harless, a dairy farmer, expressed a common fear that the legislation would make it even harder to get blind corners cleared of vegetation and that badly-needed road widening needed for farm equipment would be prohibited on scenic roads.

"If you don't look out for the farmers in Howard County, there ain't going to be many of them," Mr. Harless said.

The most critical testimony came from the county school system officials, who expressed concern that road and bridge widening needed to accommodate school buses would be curtailed by the legislation.

Glenn Johnson, school system transportation director, noted that a 3-ton limit on a one-lane Sheppard Lane bridge made it impossible for 10-ton buses to pick up children north of the bridge. Their parents drive them to school, he said.

Councilman Paul Farragut, a 4th District Democrat, noted a new bridge has already been funded and is being planned.

But Ms. McLaughlin said the legislation would put safety before scenery.

Proposed wording for the act says scenic roads "may be altered to make necessary safety, access, drainage, capacity or other improvements or to install water or sewage systems while keeping as much of the scenic character as possible."

Council members generally supported the legislation, but Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a 5th District Republican, expressed serious doubts about how it would affect farmers such as himself.

"In 1985, there were 27 or 28 dairy farms in the county. Now there are eight," Mr. Feaga said. "Some of the views you see belong to an economy that might not be there in the future."

Mr. Feaga's likely Democratic opponent in the November general election, John W. Taylor, of Highland, spoke in favor of the legislation, and asked that Route 108 from Guilford Road to the Montgomery County line be added to the list of scenic roads.

"It looks like you're driving through a post card," Mr. Taylor said of the omitted road.

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