Homes won't get sound barriers

Some lots near Route 100 come with noise warnings

April 18, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With the approval of local officials, a Howard County builder is offering $270,000 homes so close to a recently opened section of Route 100 that living there "may result in hearing impairment," county land documents warn.

County planning officials paved the way for the project along the highway near Ellicott City, granting a noise waiver a year before the road opened. They say it's up to buyers to determine whether they want to live there.

State officials say there's no chance sound barriers will be built. Although $5 million worth of noise walls has been erected elsewhere along the expressway for existing homes, state officials say none will be built for new developments.

Motorists whizzing between Interstate 95 and U.S. 29 pass a bright yellow banner advertising the Brampton Hills development at the road's northern edge, off Route 103. The first home, a model, is under construction.

Four of the 15 homesites that builder Alan G. Halle's company owns are so close to the new section of highway -- within 100 yards -- that the line denoting the maximum allowable 65-decibel level bisects them.

County record plats warn potential buyers that "lots 7, 11, 12 and 13 are in noise sensitive areas and prolonged outdoor exposure may result in hearing impairment." A vacuum cleaner produces about 80 decibels, a typical residential area at night about 40.

Builder defends plan

Halle defends the project, saying noise won't be a problem because of added insulation in the homes and other steps he's taking.

"We're delivering a great product," he said, adding that the company has planted numerous trees next to the right of way and will be "absolutely upfront" about noise from the road.

Public policy on highway noise can be confusing. State officials were so sensitive to noise issues a few years ago that they offered to buy 24 Ellicott City condominiums facing Route 100 in the nearby midrise Montgomery Run development, which sits too high for noise walls to benefit residents. But decisions on allowing new homes close to highways are up to local governments, which sometimes seek money for sound barriers, though not in this case.

As a condition of granting the waiver in December 1997, county officials required Halle to direct prospective buyers to county plat records that spell out the warning.

Halle and developer David W. Moxley say the new homes will at least shield older homes on the street from noise.

Libby D'Antuono, whose 12-year-old home is next to the Halle model under construction, disagrees.

"I'm just appalled," said D'Antuono, who lives near the end of Yorkshire Drive. The developer removed most of the trees that once lined the road, allowing traffic noise to ricochet off the huge barriers on the south side of Route 100 -- and toward her house, she says.

"The noise is atrocious," she said.

Howard officials helped create the situation, first by swapping small parcels of land with a local developer to form the 7-acre tract in 1995, then by granting a noise waiver to allow the four sites closest to the highway to be developed.

The justification for the waiver, according to county documents, is that the cost of building a 14-foot-high earthen berm to block the noise "will be a hardship to the developer."

Under the waiver, the outer walls of the homes built on the lots closest to the highway would in effect become the sound barriers. They would be required to contain enough insulation to cut interior noise to 45 decibels.

The developer defends his efforts.

"This deal was done a long time before the walls went up," Moxley said recently as he walked the site, gazing at the noise barriers on the south side of the highway, which protect another development.

"It was over a decade of negotiation," he said, explaining that the county swapped him land to enable a fire station to be built at U.S. 29 and Route 103, and to allow room for a buffer of earth and a wooden fence for the Meadowbrook development near the fire station.

"The houses themselves will screen a lot of sound," he said.

Onus on developer

Maryland officials say that because the highway opened before the homes were built, the state will not pay for erecting noise walls, even as traffic builds to a predicted 86,500 motorists daily by 2020.

"We can't put the walls up where future development may go," State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck said, explaining why barriers weren't installed to protect open land zoned for new homes next to the road. "They'll never be able to put up a wall there" with state funding, he said. "The onus is on the developer now."

Local elected officials marvel at the prices and locations of the homes but decline to take action.

"To ask $270,000 I think is just amazing. On a personal level, it just blows my mind," said county Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican.

But Merdon favors no stronger laws governing such homes.

"Is it government's job to say no?" he asked. "If people are willing to buy, that's their business."

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