The Howard County Planning Board narrowly endorsed last night a proposal to construct a lighted, in-line skating rink in the park that was built on the former Alpha Ridge landfill in Marriottsville.
The five-member board voted 3-2 to recommend that County Executive James N. Robey include the $300,000 cost of building the facility in his fiscal year 2000 capital budget.
Voting in support of the plan were Chairman Robert F. Geiger and members Haskell Arnold and Joan Lancos. Members Gary Kaufman and J. Landon Reeve sided with a handful of homeowners, who complained that traffic and lights to allow skating at night would ruin the area's pastoral nature.
"This park is becoming a nightmare," said activist Donald Gill. "This is creating a new precedent. They're creating a western facility that should be in the eastern part of the county."
But the board's support delighted about a half-dozen adults and children, who testified that the hockey center would encourage activity among children and meet a growing fan base.
"Roller hockey is truly the next soccer movement in this county," said Stephen Heuer, whose son, Shane, 10, also testified in favor of the rink. "I am extremely sympathetic to the issues that exist, but in this case, I do not see the merit behind their arguments," the father said.
The landfill has been a source of controversy since it opened in 1980 on about 640 acres west of Marriottsville Road. The facility's boundaries are Old Frederick Road on the north and Interstate 70 on the south.
About a decade later, county officials discontinued dumping trash at the landfill after it started leaking carcinogens. A Sun article later revealed that 10 people in a small community about 1,000 yards from the landfill were stricken with cancer.
Since then, officials have funded efforts to contain the leakage and cap the landfill. The park is on a 100-acre parcel and was built to appease angry residents, who welcomed a place for their children to play.
But homeowners have been wary about further proposed uses for the park. Plans for an equestrian facility and a model-airplane site failed, in part, because of the traffic and noise they would have generated.
Gary Arthur, the director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks, told the board that his staff selected the Alpha Ridge park for the skating rink because its tennis and basketball courts are rarely used, the road and parking infrastructure existed, and the sloping hills of the park would hide all but 5 feet of the pavilion from Old Frederick Road.
Arthur also pointed out that a roller hockey program started by his agency in 1993 has exploded from 12 to 300 participants.
"We serve the people of Howard County and their leisure-time needs," he said. "We believe this proposal would do that."
One of those who would be served by the facility was Cody Gormley, 11, who said he was excited when he first heard of the plan.
"I feel that a pavilion is a safer place to skate rather than in the streets, where you can get hit by cars," Cody said.
But those who live nearest to the park contended that lights to allow play until 11 p.m. would convert the rural atmosphere into an urban one.
"It's totally dark out there," Karen Flanagan told the board. The park "is an inappropriate place for this. I'm asking you for a little sanity."
Reeve pointed out that the park has a dawn-to-dusk policy. "I think a pavilion makes sense but we need to tone down the lights," he said.
But board member Arnold disagreed. "We have to put lights in for safety," he said. "I don't have a problem with the location or [the lights] being there."
Pub Date: 3/25/99