Residents want trees near mall preserved Plan to build houses, offices may ruin scenic drive, they say

October 08, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

When Helen Ruther moved to Columbia 31 years ago, Governor Warfield Parkway -- with its tree branches hanging over the road -- didn't look much different than it does today, except for the pavement and increased traffic.

"It was just a dirt road. Everyone knew that it would one day be paved," she said. "There was nothing along it so you could walk along and find turtles."

Now she -- and many nearby residents -- are fighting to preserve the trees and the scenic drive, which they say is one of the last in Columbia.

Rouse Co. officials have proposed developing 26 acres of woods behind The Mall in Columbia that border Twin Rivers Road.

The Rouse plan -- which received preliminary approval from the Howard County Planning Board last month -- designates 8.4 acres for townhouses and/or apartments, 14.5 acres for an office building and the remaining 3 acres as undeveloped.

But for neighbors near the property, the tree-lined road is one of ++ the prettiest in Columbia, and they want it to stay that way. They fear the project would destroy the wooded view.

The road "will look different, but at this point we don't know how different," said Richard Blood, supervisor of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning's plan review section.

Rouse officials said developing the lot was part of Columbia's original plan in 1965.

That property "has been proposed for development since that time," said David Forester, a senior vice president for development. "We're trying to do the best we can to balance the residents' concerns and development, but it's going to change."

Blood said he has received more than 50 letters and dozens of phone calls about the development proposal -- an unusually high number.

'A lovely drive'

"It's a lovely drive in the heart of Columbia," said Hank Eigles, chairman of Wilde Lake Village Board. "We're just interested in retaining as many trees as possible."

Bernice Kish, village manager of Wilde Lake, said the road "has always provided a sense of place in the middle of development."

Members of the Wilde Lake and Town Center village boards are collaborating to preserve trees along the parkway and voice their concerns about traffic and noise. They plan to follow the proposal as it goes through the Department of Planning and Zoning.

"I never thought they would want to develop to the edge of the road," said Ruther, a covenant adviser for Town Center. "I think to remove that buffer would be unfortunate."

Attempting compromise

But Rouse officials said they have tried to compromise with nearby residents by increasing the distance between the development and the parkway from 15 feet to 30 feet. Officials also have increased the amount of space between the office building and the multifamily homes.

They see the site plan as one part of their vision for downtown Columbia -- to create a complementary mix of residential and commercial properties.

Strengthening downtown

"It very much strengthens the downtown," said Forester. "It provides more nighttime activity and more customers for retailers. It won't just be a 9-to-5 community."

The 26-acre tract is one of the last areas to be developed in the downtown area.

"When it's the last, it's going to get more press," Forester said.

Rouse officials plan to submit a final plan next year that outlines the exact number and type of houses. They expect to complete the project by 2003.

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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