Until surveyors drove stakes for a public footpath between their two homes Tuesday morning, Joan Mory and Tammy Maus had no idea a tot lot was in the works.
The plat of the Piney Ridge Village subdivision, which Ms. Mory received at the time of her settlement in November 1993, shows a common area for utilities but nothing concerning public access to the heavily wooded area behind her home.
"The path compromises the back yard," she said. "I have already had basement flooding."
"I am going to lose a sizable part of my yard," said Ms. Maus, her next-door neighbor.
The project is part of the public works agreement that developer Powers Homes signed with Harford County.
With bulldozers scheduled to begin construction Friday, the homeowners had little time to act. They hastily called a meeting with their neighbors on Longleaf Pine Road Tuesday evening and found that many were as misinformed as they were.
"The sellers are still not telling buyers about the open space," Ms. Mory said.
During a second meeting Wednesday, the women gathered about 30 signatures on a letter asking for postponement of the project and started a petition drive in opposition.
The tot lot has divided the 6-year-old South Carroll community of about 200 homes that stretch north from Johnsville Road.
"The same passion we are having about not having a tot lot, they are having about wanting one," said Brian McAllister, one of the newer residents. "We don't want a fence erected between two parts of the community."
Many children of the original homeowners have long since outgrown swings and sliding boards, but their parents are holding the builder to his promise.
"A tot lot was in our agreement, when we came here," said Koreen Hughes of Freedom Avenue. "If we aren't going to have it, there should be less dues."
Each homeowner pays $19 a month in association fees, part of which is used to maintain established common areas. The tot lot could mean an increase in dues.
"It would be costly for the community as far as upkeep and insurance," said Tom Neser. "It won't serve any good purpose. The majority of us with toddlers have swing sets anyway."
At the residents' request, Jeff Powers, vice president of the homebuilder firm, asked for and received a 30-day extension of a county deadline to complete the project this month. The requirement is part of Powers' public works agreement.
"The county is acting as a third party in this," said Patrick Hill, the county construction agreements coordinator. "The 30 days will give them time to get a consensus of what the majority wants."
The extension "gives us a chance to meet and put the issues on the table and let the wheels of democracy run the course," said Suzanne Packard of Longleaf Pine Road.
Among the issues the community wants to address is the $8,000 offer Mr. Powers recently made to the community association in lieu of the tot lot. A three-member board of directors, who all live in the older section of the subdivision, turned down the offer, without seeking comment from the community.
"Our board of directors went behind our backs and made a decision for us in a closed meeting," said Ms. Maus.
Ms. Mory said, "They summarily turned down our offer. They are not representing our interests."
Ray Strozyk, association president, said he would not comment.
The community has tentatively scheduled an informational meeting July 25. Organizers plan to have cost estimates for maintenance and liability insurance.
"It is the right of everyone in the neighborhood to vote on this issue," said Ms. Packard. "If the majority doesn't want it, they should say so."
"Some are oblivious and scattered on the issue; others feel strongly one way or another," Ms. Mory said. "We want to make sure everyone knows the issues and the potential problems. The real issue is lack of information."
Other area tot lots have been vandalized and the setting for teen-agers' late night parties, neighbors said. A thick screen of trees also will obscure the view of the proposed playground.
"Are people thinking a guardian angel is watching their children?" said Ms. Mory. "We will be faced with safety and legal issues."