Council approves road connections in Worthington area of Ellicott City 2 controversial links bitterly split neighborhood

May 27, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council approved funding for two controversial road connections in the Worthington area of Ellicott City yesterday as part of a $131 million capital budget.

The plan to connect Hale Haven and Doncaster drives -- which has bitterly divided the neighborhood -- was funded, as was a connection between New Cut Road and Chews Vineyard, which has been criticized on environmental grounds.

The moves are intended to divert traffic from congested Worthington Way, the only route out of several subdivisions built north of the original Worthington development.

About $1.7 million was allocated for the two projects.

The issue has divided homeowners in the area, as supporters and opponents of the various proposals have accused others of looking out for their own interests, not for the good of the community.

Republican Council member Darrel E. Drown, whose support of the road connections has drawn criticism, said the final decision was fair. He noted that the county has been discussing the subject for 20 years.

"It's one of those critical needs that needed to be addressed," Drown said after yesterday's meeting. "It wasn't going to be easy. It wasn't going to be fun. I honestly and truly believe it's best for the whole community."

However, the decision disappointed residents such as Jack Speicher, who said his neighborhood in the area of Hale Haven Drive would be forced to bear the larger community's traffic problems. Speicher said homeowners who oppose the Hale Haven-Doncaster plan are weighing their legal options.

"I feel we have a good case in that the original intent of the connection was to feed a school and 50 houses," Speicher said. "Now, that's changed, and it's a school, 700 houses and an office research park and unknown through traffic."

For several months last year, the nine-member Worthington Vicinity Task Force worked out a proposal to address the escalating traffic problem. Homeowners on Hale Haven and Doncaster maintained that the New Cut-Chews Vineyard connection would adequately alleviate neighborhood traffic.

Ultimately, six people voted in favor of linking Hale Haven and Doncaster, while eight of the nine voted to build a new road that would run through a county landfill and property owned by the Taylor family joining Chews Vineyard and New Cut Road.

"They studied every angle," Drown said. "They took months and months and months to discuss it and came up with what I thought was a very decent alternative."

The outcome proved divisive.

At one point, residents along Doncaster and Hale Haven drives posted protest signs in their yards, urging the county to reject the connection. They also hired attorney Paul H. Rappaport, a former Howard County police chief who was Ellen R. Sauerbrey's running mate in the 1994 governor's race, and created a legal defense fund. A community flier indicated that a lawsuit could follow if the council endorsed the Hale Haven-Doncaster plan.

Others contended that linking New Cut Road and Chews Vineyard would destroy a scenic area and raise health concerns because the new road would go through a landfill. Sally Bright, who lives on Church Road, said she worries that the county may run into costly environmental problems in the process.

"I feel for everybody," said Bright, who was a historic district liaison to the task force. "There's a lot of animosity, and it's going to be there for a long time."

But Jay Downs, who served on the task force and lives on Round-hill Road, commended the council on Tuesday's ruling. Like Drown, Downs believes both road connections will benefit the whole Worthington area.

"I am really pleased to hear that," Downs said of the council vote. "I think it will be for the good of the entire community."

If the connections are inevitable, Bright said he hopes that homeowners will at least have a say in how they are built.

"We're taking a wait-and-see attitude," she said. "We're going to be watching every step of the way."

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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