Construction on York Road builds toward growing pains

Bigger stores add convenience but bring more people, traffic

April 17, 1999|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The bulldozers are everywhere these days.

From Lutherville to Hunt Valley, the yellow behemoths are making way for new housing, shopping centers, office complexes and big-box stores.

Bypassed by the building frenzy that gripped White Marsh, Owings Mills and other parts of the county in recent years, the once-dormant stretch of the York Road corridor is on a building roll of its own.

And while some residents say the new developments bring much-needed conveniences, others insist they mean more traffic congestion, more people and bigger headaches.

"Enough is enough," said Lisa Marquardt, who moved to Lutherville five years ago. "Is this just going to become a mecca for shopping? People are wondering what happened to preserving the lifestyle we came here to achieve."

Today's York Road is a far cry from the 18th-century dirt road once used for transporting grain from southern Pennsylvania to Baltimore. The six-mile stretch between Seminary Avenue and Shawan Road offers miles of car dealerships, fast-food franchises, shopping centers, office parks and homes. About 36,000 to 40,000 motorists travel the road daily.

For most of the past decade, residents of the area watched as new businesses sprung up in other parts of the county.

Now, however, the York Road corridor is "the best area in Baltimore County that's buildable by the Beltway," says developer Leroy Merritt, co-owner of Merritt Property LLC, which is constructing a 200,000-square-foot office building in Timonium.

Farther north on Beaver Dam Road, a Lowe's home improvement store and a Sam's Club are planned. Construction on the Broad Street Market shopping center is under way on Padonia Road. The Ashland Market Place and a Home Depot are under construction in Cockeysville, and Timonium will get a Target.

At the same time, pockets of neighborhoods -- notably the Mays Chapel area off Padonia Road -- are continuing to grow, providing more relatively affluent customers for big retailers.

While the growing population was attractive to businesses, the rezoning of several large parcels from manufacturing to commercial made it possible to build on York Road.

"The area has been built-out for some time," said planning director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III. "There was a lot of pressure for big-box stores, but the square footage those stores needed wasn't available until rezoning."

Big-box stores take notice

With that move, the county seemed to open the floodgates.

In 1995, Price Club became the first big-box store to set its sights on Timonium, but members of the Greater Timonium Community Council successfully opposed the project on Aylesbury Road, saying it would increase traffic problems, lower property values and bring outsiders into their neighborhoods.

In the last two years, however, PETCO Supplies & Fish and Best Buy moved into a redeveloped site in Lutherville. A 24-hour Super Fresh grocery store relocated to the new Fairgrounds Plaza on Aylesbury Road. Wal-Mart and Burlington Coat Factory moved next to Hunt Valley Mall.

At the same time, developers such as Peter G. Angelos have torn down older buildings along York Road and put up retail complexes like the Foxtail Center.

"We're finally getting to the point where we can shop in our own community," said Barbara Reisinger, a Sparks resident who manages an office building at the busy intersection of Padonia and York roads.

"I drive 11 miles to shop in this area. If I wanted to go to Home Depot, I had to go to Perring Parkway which was another 20 minutes away on the Beltway," she said. "Sometimes it was just easier going to Shrewsbury, Pa., to shop."

Costs of convenience

All this building, however, has potential costs.

York Road is rated Class D, said Steve Weber, chief of the county's division of traffic engineering. That means the road is congested, but not yet failing.

New businesses will only add to the congestion at intersections such as York Road and Seminary Avenue. A store like Target, for example, is expected to generate almost 10,000 trips a day, according to county traffic experts.

Not surprisingly, many residents believe they're trading tranquillity for new shopping conveniences.

"I'm glad it's here," said Towson resident Bill Rettberg, who was buying computer equipment at the Best Buy. "But the traffic is getting right bad. They're really packing it in. It's just too much for one area."

Louise Scarberry, who was buying groceries at the new Super Fresh, echoed his sentiments.

"I've been here for more than 32 years and it's grown more than 100 percent," said the Timonium resident. "I still like the area, but the traffic is terrible."

County planners and traffic engineers are working with the state to alleviate some of the problems. McCormick Road, which turns into Beaver Dam Road, was extended from Hunt Valley to Timonium as an alternative to York Road. The county is considering improvements on Padonia, such as widening the road and adding left turn lanes.

Town meetings expected

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