Perry Hall's struggle to grow Belair Road residents cope with construction

March 18, 1996|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Just look at this yard.

A shade tree, 150 years old, is reduced to heaps of logs and mulch. A cherry picker is chocked in front of the house, its boom reaching toward 13,000 volts of hot wire. Orange stakes and yellow flags mark a path that will bring Belair Road closer to the Pipino family's doorstep and to the neighboring homes and businesses along Perry Hall's main drag.

"They come and tell you they want your property," says Barry Pipino, who has lived in the red brick cottage with the screened breezeway for 20 years. He says the state has offered him thousands of dollars for a 12-foot strip of his front yard, and he's due two trees to replace the fallen oak.

But to him, this real estate deal is more like a shotgun wedding. "I don't want to sell it to begin with."

It's a common dilemma in fast-growing suburbs: With development comes traffic and with traffic comes the need for bigger roads.

Few areas know that better than northeastern Baltimore County, where sleepy country lanes have grown into multilane roads on which cars whiz by at 50 mph. In the White Marsh area are the byproducts one house sits within eight feet of a five-lane road, and seven-foot concrete bulkheads hold back front yards.

"This place has been a mess for years," says Gary Simonowicz, whose front yard ended up with a wall when Joppa Road was widened to five lanes between Carney and Perry Hall. Pointing west, he says, "I go this way. I don't even mess with Belair Road."

Some areas have fared better. Development in Owings Mills came after construction of Owings Mills Boulevard and Interstate 795, and the area is linked to Baltimore by the Metro's tracks. But White Marsh has suffered in part because of delayed or scrapped road projects.

In the White Marsh area, major road expansions began in the late 1970s, when work began on widening Silver Spring Road from two lanes to five. Now, a $10.3 million project is adding a fifth lane to U.S. 1 between Ebenezer and Cliffvale roads; meanwhile, work is wrapping up on an earlier, $8.5 million expansion of the road closer to the Baltimore Beltway.

That work comes in the wake of a $16 million widening of the Indian hunting trail that came to be known as the Joppa Road. The project, which began in the mid-1980s and lasted until 1994, created some odd landmarks such as the house between Old Harford and Harford roads that sits within eight feet of the eastbound slow lane, protected by concrete walls.

Officials issued the homeowner a permit to build an addition not knowing the road would come so close and the owner chose to complete the job despite the encroaching road, said Robert C. Berner, chief of highway design in the county Bureau of Engineering.

As the wider roads claim strips of land, property owners haggle with government officials over compensation. A typical settlement for a homeowner is a couple of thousand dollars, says Christian C. Larson, the state highway official overseeing land acquisition for the Belair Road project.

But these are not always cash deals. When the county widened Joppa Road, Mr. Simonowicz had his driveway moved and also negotiated for some plumbing work in his basement and an electrical service upgrade to 220 amps.

On the Belair Road project, Bill Listman is a tough sell.

Mr. Listman, 62, has lived his whole life in a white-shingled, slate-roofed house, and recalls trapshooting in neighboring fields that are now the site of the Cedarside Farm development. He lives with his wife and mother, and bitterly describes his stalled negotiations with state officials over the 10 feet of property he will lose.

"I said, 'You keep your money, I'll keep my place,' " said Mr. Listman, "He told me I could buy a new car.

"What I should have done is sold the whole place, but I have that much respect for my mother. This is the only house she's ever had."

On Belair Road these days, utility workers move power lines onto newly planted poles farther from the road. By night, lanes close to allow for another shift of loud construction work.

Property is being claimed only on the west side of the road.

Charles R. "Dick" Harrison, district engineer for the State Highway Administration, said designers had to avoid the historic Baltimore Embroidery Co., on the east side just north of Chapel Road. Also, he said, the road was already widened on the west side in front of Cedarside Farm, and widening only one side would cause fewer traffic disruptions.

None of which is much consolation to the businesses and homeowners on the west side.

The road will come within a few feet of a branch office of the Rosedale Federal Savings & Loan. It will run close to the Klausmeier & Sons Auto Service garage in fact, an older, circa 1920 building that housed the original service station was razed for the road.

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