2 legislators criticize Rouse Co. development State's rating allows higher traffic volume at North Laurel project

October 28, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Two state legislators from Howard County have criticized state highway officials for not being more stringent with a developer of a 1,201-home mixed-use development in North Laurel.

Sen. Martin G. Madden and Del. John S. Morgan, both of whom represent North Laurel, said the State Highway Administration's request for a "D" level of service at the intersections of Route 216 and a proposed loop road is inadequate.

If the intersections hadn't received at least a "D" rating, the project might have been slowed. The "D" rating means that capacity at the intersections during peak morning and evening hours will hover around 90 percent.

Morgan said he would like to see a "C" requirement, which is about 75 percent capacity. A higher rating could result a reduction in the number of houses in the proposal, but it is unclear because planners don't know how much traffic the completed project will attract.

"We have a lot of development going on in the general area," Morgan said. "If we have a 'D' level of service, we're on our way to failure."

Added Madden: "That's too lenient of a standard."

But Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co., was critical of the legislators, particularly Morgan, for trying to change standards for the Rouse project.

"Morgan doesn't know what he's talking about," Scavo said. "Does he have something against Rouse? Why should we be treated any differently?"

The Rouse Co. has received preliminary approval from the county Zoning Board to build a Columbia-type village on 507 acres bisected by Interstate 95 and bounded by Gorman Road to the north and Route 216 to the south.

During an information meeting Oct. 15 between state highway officials and county officials, the state announced that to gain its approval, Rouse must finance a traffic study analyzing the traffic count on Route 216 and future impact of the 1,201 homes and 89 acres of business space proposed for the mixed-use plan.

Rouse did not object to that requirement.

Much like a report card judges students, state highway officials grade intersections from "A" to "F," based on the traffic through the intersection.

Neil Pedersen, planning director for the highway administration, said the agency requires a "D" rating from all projects similar to the Rouse proposal.

"We have to be consistent in how we treat developments in suburban counties like Howard," Pedersen said. "We use a 'D' level, regardless of who the developer is."

Morgan contended that the agency should be asking for a higher grade from Rouse. "When we have the opportunity to hold a developer accountable, we should hold that developer accountable to at least a 'C,' " he said. "I think they were very generous."

Greg Fries, chairman of the Southern Howard Land Use Committee, an umbrella group of civic groups, said he also is puzzled by the lenient requirement.

"It's hard to comprehend how you can start at that level," Fries said. "I could see where, if they allowed Rouse to get that level of service, we could move right through the next two levels in just a couple of years."

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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