Residents debate uses for parkland

Rec plans vie with desire for open space at Meadowbrook site

April 06, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

A planned 77-acre park in Ellicott City has become a source of contention between those who want more ball fields and playgrounds for their children and those who want to preserve the quiet plot of stream, meadow and wetlands for walking, bird-watching and meditation.

Meadowbrook Park, on Meadowbrook Lane at the southeast corner of U.S. 29 and Route 100, will be the subject of a public hearing at 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow at Recreation and Parks headquarters, 7120 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia.

In one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, ball fields and open space are in short supply, and undisturbed plots of land such as this one generate high emotions, said Ken Alban Jr., a Recreation and Parks administrator.

"We only have so many park sites available, so we try to create a balance," he said.

He said the county has a shortage of ball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, bike trails and playgrounds, particularly in the eastern portion. He said 33 acres of the park would be "disturbed" to create such facilities, including an outdoor roller rink, and 44 acres would remain in their natural state.

Many nearby residents object to those proposals. They worry about increased traffic, lights and noise.

"We are not opposed to a community park," said Lyttleton Rowe, immediate past president of the Columbia Hills/Meadowbrook Farm Community Association. "We are opposed to a sports complex."

He said the ball fields -- which would be lighted at night, according to preliminary plans -- would attract people from "multitudes of states" because of league activity, and called it "a revenue-generating sports complex."

"Some people will not rest until the last inch of soil in Howard County has been developed," said Georgina Havlik, a longtime neighbor of the park and a member of the Columbia Hills Community Association.

But many residents, especially those with young children, want to see the park developed.

"There's a big demand in Howard County for fields," said John Dittman, an Ellicott City resident and father of three young children who lives about a mile from the proposed park. Dittman, who coaches for a soccer association, worries that children who do not have space to play will turn to less constructive activities.

"The more you can get kids involved at a young age, the less they will get into trouble," he said.

Amy Mooney, president of the Wheatfield Homeowners Association, said her group supports the park, although members are demanding safer access to the park from Wheatfield Way, which would mean widening sidewalks and doubling crossing time for pedestrians.

"We support the park, we really do," she said. "But we are a little bit concerned about safety and the influx of traffic. We don't want to lose a child."

Alban said Howard County bought the Meadowbrook site, once a farmstead called Meadowbrook Farm, in 1984, with the intent of making it a "community facility." He said it would cost about $1.6 million to develop the park, and that the county aims to begin work in 2000 or 2001.

"It probably would have gone to development if we had not bought it," he said.

He said the county plans four baseball/softball fields, two basketball courts, two tennis courts, one roller rink, two playgrounds, two picnic pavilions, two restrooms, a volleyball court, a horseshoe area and two multipurpose fields.

Alban said the county is willing to amend the plans if that's what the public indicates it wants at tomorrow night's hearing.

While Alban understands the concerns of Columbia Hills residents, he said there is a shortage of open space in Howard County and Recreation and Parks officials are trying to make the most out of what they have.

"Everything is subdivided in the east," he said, lamenting that county planners did not make provisions for more parks long ago. "Twenty years ago, there should have been a vision that we should have set aside land for parks," he said.

"It's tough in a county where things are growing quickly," Dittman said. "There's a mix of people, with young families and people who have been here for decades. But new developments bring new demands.

"It's going to be a constant struggle for a while."

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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