Hampstead's excuse was off-track State's decision lifts rail-crossing technicality that blocked subdivision.

July 31, 1996

IF THE TOWN of Hampstead wants to block construction of North Carroll Farms Section 4 subdivision, it will have to do so without riding the rails.

And that wouldn't be a bad idea for the town, where the politics of growth have resulted in conflicting positions with each change in political leadership. In its current legal challenge to the 220-unit development, Hampstead and several citizens claim there were problems in the process followed by the former town planning commission that approved the expanded development. But a controversy over a railroad crossing that was holding up the subdivision plan is now moot.

The state Transportation Department officially lifted its four-year ban on a new railroad crossing in the town. It was that prohibition that had kept developer Martin K. P. Hill from completing the subdivision, since the crossing would provide motorists access to the development. A year earlier, CSX Transportation Inc., which owns the tracks, had ended its objection to the new crossing.

While opponents of the subdivision are unhappy at removal of this official blockage, it was a questionable excuse to begin with. The ban resulted from a Federal Railway Administration goal to remove 25 percent of rail crossings nationwide, to reduce potential accidents.

But if safety is the objective, a new rail crossing at North Carroll Farms would seem preferable. It would have a flashing light and ample signage for motorists, unlike the existing Greenmount Church Road crossing. Now that both crossings may be open, the state agency figures most traffic will use the new crossing.

Certainly, elements of this turnaround by state officials raised eyebrows in Hampstead. Realty broker and state Sen. Larry Haines intervened with the Maryland Department of Transportation on behalf of wealthy developer Hill. And, the department reversed its long-standing position shortly after Gov. Parris N. Glendening removed veteran state highway chief Hal Kassoff, a recognized foe of politically motivated engineering decisions.

But the reasoning of both CSX and the state -- that this bureaucratic hang-up should not decide local growth issues -- is sound and keeps the public policy debate on the right track.

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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