Residents in southeast Howard County are fuming over changes made to scenic Gorman Road that were approved by the county Department of Public Works without public input -- a move they say sets an "ugly precedent" for the county's other scenic roads.
"It's kind of a violation of public trust," said resident Gregory Fries, who lives along Gorman Road. "The county has blatantly disregarded the scenic road regulations."
Admitting that they "erred," public works officials say they are reviewing the design plans for the new road that will provide access to two new schools under construction off Gorman Road.
"We probably erred in not having a public hearing process," said James Irvin, director of public works, who recently met with the residents. "They felt the improvements were too much, so we're seeing if we can reduce them, to scale them down."
Gorman Road is one of 60 designated scenic roads in the county. Development along such roads is controlled by regulations that went into effect in September 1994.
The changes -- which include the loss of about 150 square feet of vegetation along the winding, country road in the Laurel and Savage areas -- were part of the construction of a new access road for a middle school and an elementary school being built off Gorman Road.
The middle school is scheduled to open in August 1997 and the elementary school two years later. Residents in the area proposed construction of the access road to help preserve the scenic character of Gorman Road.
The original plans for the schools called for a driveway immediately off Gorman Road at a stretch of roadway that had poor sight distance and dangerous curves. That driveway would have required significant changes to make Gorman Road safe for school buses, so residents suggested the short access road instead.
They were outraged, however, when workers cleared vegetation along Gorman Road in preparation for the access road, without the public having reviewed the final plans.
"A violation has occurred in our opinion," said Mr. Fries.
Added community leader Karina Zimmerman: "We're kind of worried the county is ignoring and sweeping under the rug the scenic road legislation. We don't want to compromise on the scenic road legislation."
The county's rules governing scenic roads require developers to "minimize tree and vegetation removal" and to help "preserve the scenic character of the landscape viewed from these roads and the features of the road right-of-way that contribute to the road's scenic character."
If a capital improvement is proposed for a scenic road, the county is required to hold a public hearing. The access road being constructed by the Howard County school system is not considered a county capital project. It does affect Gorman Road, however.
"It wasn't technically a violation" of the scenic road legislation, said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the county Department of Planning and Zoning. "In hindsight, we're seeing that it should have been done differently."
Mr. Irvin said he hopes to have alternatives to the original intersection design "within a week or so." And any vegetation that was unnecessarily removed will be restored, he said.
He said part of the problem was a rushed construction project for the much-needed schools. Those schools will help alleviate crowding in southeast Howard, where parents have complained about the use of portable classrooms to accommodate growing enrollment.
"We're on a really tight schedule to get everything built out there," Mr. Irvin said. "But we're going to deal" with the residents' concerns about the road.
Pub Date: 5/03/96