First park planned for North Laurel County officials try to buy land for facility

residents say move is long overdue

March 01, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Howard County planning and parks officials are trying to acquire vacant lots in the North Laurel Park area to establish that community's first park -- a project residents say is long overdue.

The proposed site for the planned 20- to 30-acre park is a wooded lot just south of the Laurel Woods Elementary School at Howard and Park avenues in the community of North Laurel Park.

The county already owns six of about 89 roughly quarter-acre lots on the proposed site, said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning. The county is trying to buy some of the other lots or trade for other property it owns in North Laurel Park, she said.

"This is going to take a lot of work," County Councilman Dennis R. Schrader told North Laurel residents at a recent community meeting. "But we're off and running."

Residents say it's about time the county did something about the lack of recreational facilities and playing fields in the North Laurel area, which force many to use parks in nearby Savage or Columbia.

"It's something that we've needed in the area for ages," said Patsy Yingling, president of the North Laurel Civic Association. "I know people who have lived here for over 20 years and have been fighting for this since then."

First, however, the project would have to be added to the county's capital budget. In the meantime, officials expect to use $30,000 to $50,000 of county planning funds to prepare for the project, said Jeffrey Bourne, director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks.

Though a park is not expected to become reality until 2006, residents said that just the acquisition of vacant lots would help slow development in the rapidly growing community.

"One of our primary goals is to get that land set aside as open space, to get it out of the development stream," said Michael Ratcliffe, who chairs a committee of residents studying the area's park and recreation needs.

Responding to residents' complaints, Mr. Schrader formed a planning group of citizens a year ago to draft a plan that would guide improvements in the community. That group also has recommended improvements to roadways, sidewalks, storm water management and sewers in North Laurel Park, which has problems with flooding and traffic.

Recreation areas remain a top concern of residents, however.

They want a park that would include ball fields, picnic facilities, nature trails and an indoor recreation facility that could be used for meetings, arts and crafts and other activities.

Mr. Ratcliffe said the planning group is proposing that the county expand Savage Park along the Middle Patuxent River and develop a park near the Patuxent River on the county's southern border that also would serve the North Laurel area.

In the short-term, North Laurel Park residents said the county's effort to acquire some of the vacant lots in their community will help maintain open space in a densely developed area.

"Even though the park won't go in for 10 years, the thing that I'm really happy about is that this could stop development on those lots," said resident Tom Flynn.

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