Haines assists housing project Developer gets state to drop impediment to vital rail crossing

Reason for move 'a mystery'

Hill has wrangled for years with with state, CSX

July 26, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

With help from state Sen. Larry E. Haines, developer Martin K. P. Hill has persuaded the state Department of Transportation to remove a long-standing obstacle to construction of a highway railroad crossing that is vital for completion of his North Carroll Farms IV project in Hampstead.

Last month's action removes the condition that a railroad crossing at Greenmount Church Road be closed before Hill may build another crossing at Farm Woods Lane to create the main access to his planned 220-unit development.

Since 1992, the state Department of Transportation has maintained that for safety reasons, Greenmount Church Road must be closed to through traffic within 60 days after the opening of a new highway rail crossing at Farm Woods Lane.

Hampstead officials, many of whom oppose the North Carroll Farms IV development, say they are baffled that state transportation officials would suddenly abandon their position.

"I think it's clear from the beginning that the secretary of transportation wanted to have Greenmount Church Road closed all highway traffic," said Hampstead Councilman Wayne Thomas. "We were trying to follow the guidelines they set up to close the road. Why everyone changed their position is a mystery to me."

Hill has wrangled for years with transportation officials and executives from CSX Transportation Inc., which owns the railroad. He said he enlisted Haines' help to request that state Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead write a letter to the town of Hampstead stating the department's reversal on the railroad crossing matter.

"It's kind of difficult for Joe Blow to get a meeting, and I requested that Senator Haines help me to gain access to get the letter from him," Hill said.

Haines, chairman of Carroll's legislative delegation, said there was nothing unusual about his involvement and that he frequently responds to similar requests from his constituents.

"All I did was place a call to the secretary's office," Haines said. "A lot of times I communicate with agencies where people have a problem getting through."

State transportation and CSX officials contend that the railroad crossing was at the center of a politically charged battle between Hill and Hampstead officials over the North Carroll Farms IV project. They say the decision to lift the prior restrictions applying to the construction of a new crossing was an attempt to distance state and private interests from local politics.

"We wanted to get the State Highway Administration out of the decision-making process between the town and the developer over whether he could build his development or not," said Robert J. Herstein, statewide studies team leader with the SHA.

"So we changed our position and said go ahead and build the new crossing."

Herstein said state traffic planners expect most motorists to use the new Farm Woods Lane crossing instead of Greenmount Church Road.

"In the end, traffic will drop off drastically on Greenmount Church Road, which is what we wanted," he said.

The North Carroll Farms IV development has faced strong opposition since May 1995, when a slate of slow-growth candidates was voted into office in Hampstead. In November, the new mayor and the Town Council rescinded 50 building permits that would have allowed Hill to begin work.

Town officials noted problems with systems to manage storm water, concerns about contamination of drinking water and the railroad crossing issue in their decision to withdraw the already-approved permits.

Hill has completed roads and water and sewer facilities for the development, but the town and a group of residents are continuing a court fight to overturn the Hampstead Planning and Zoning Commission's 1994 approval of the expansion of North Carroll Farms. The case is before the Court of Special Appeals.

Since the withdrawal of the permits, Hill said, he has held discussions with the SHA to clarify the requirements for extending Farm Woods Lane across the CSX tracks to connect with Route 30.

The original conditions for the approval of the Farms Wood Lane railway crossing were established in 1992 by O. James Lighthizer, then the state transportation secretary. He said the approval was contingent on the closing of Greenmount Church Road to all highway traffic.

At that time, CSX Transportation Inc., which also must approve any new railway crossings, said Hampstead had to close three crossings before receiving approval for the new crossing for North Carroll Farms IV. The company cited a Federal Railroad Administration order to close 25 percent of the at-grade crossing nationwide by the year 2000.

Over the next three years, as planning for North Carroll Farms IV progressed and new Hampstead officials took office, the exact requirements for construction of the new Farm Woods Lane crossing became unclear, according to the parties involved.

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