Scenic routes are at risk, residents say Concerns focus on College Avenue connection plan

'Throwing road to wolves'

Winding lanes cannot hold more traffic safely, critics say

August 19, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

A Howard County law designed to protect about 60 scenic roads does not do enough to keep them safe from development, say Ellicott City residents engaged in a battle to save one of their own scenic roads.

The fight involves College Avenue, an almost two-mile-long, narrow, winding road with a forested vista of decades-old locust and oak trees.

One of about a dozen designated scenic roads in Ellicott City, it begins in the historic district and winds to Bonnie Branch Road, northeast of Route 103. But last week, the Howard County Planning Board approved a road extension to College Avenue to accommodate a proposed 74-home development.

Some nearby residents say the Doncaster Drive extension to College Avenue would be the beginning of the end for the quaint atmosphere of the scenic road.

"They are throwing a scenic road to the wolves," said David M. Thomas, a resident of Bonnie Branch Road, another designated scenic road. "They make Ellicott City a beautiful place, but the legislation that is supposed to protect it has no teeth."

Residents warn that increased traffic from the proposed development and the hundreds of homes in the neighborhood south of College Avenue would make an already dangerous road even worse. College Avenue's hairpin curves and steep inclines have earned it the nickname of "Seven Hills."

"The entire road won't be anything like it is 10 years from now," says Chris Cotter, a College Avenue resident. "There will be so much traffic and so many more accidents that the county will almost have to make road improvements."

Residents on and near College Avenue had relied on its scenic road designation to prevent such a situation. Since September 1994, when the scenic roads law went into effect, development on 60 designated scenic roads in the county has been regulated.

Under the law, a scenic road is described as a public road that provides "outstanding views" and passes "through an area of outstanding natural environmental features such as forests, steep topography and stream or river valleys."

While it states that developers must help "preserve the scenic character of the landscape viewed from these roads and the features that contribute to the road's scenic character," the law also allows scenic roads to be altered for safety reasons.

Russ Strough, a College Avenue resident of 10 years, said he sees a pattern developing.

"If you put a lot more cars on the road, the safety issue will worsen. Then the county will come out and change the road," he said.

Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the county's Planning and Zoning Department, said development projects in the county are rarely located near scenic roads. For the few that are, the law "will not stop development but maybe minimize its impact," she said.

The College Avenue controversy arose after Bonnie Branch Corp., which owns 400 acres near College Avenue, proposed building 74 homes on 81 acres on Doncaster Drive, a proposal that went to the planning board Aug. 1.

It would be the first phase of development Bonnie Branch plans for the area, company officials said.

Planning and Zoning Department Director Joseph Rutter suggested the developer build the extension for an estimated $250,000.

The county otherwise would have to pay for a road to give emergency vehicles better access to the growing developments in the area, he said.

Pub Date: 8/19/96

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