Council to trim its plans for parks

Residents protest lights, development of recreation areas

April 27, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Reacting to recent complaints from dozens of angry residents, the Howard County Council is moving to scale back plans for developing parks in western Howard and Ellicott City.

After capital budget discussions yesterday, the council tentatively decided not to allow lights at the new, larger roller hockey rink proposed for Alpha Ridge Park on Frederick Road in western Howard. The five council members also delayed approving planning funds for developing 3 acres of 77-acre Meadowbrook Park near Ellicott City until a consensus is reached with community critics.

In both cases, county recreation officials want more intensive uses than nearby residents do, frustrating recreation director Gary Arthur.

"How can we be accused of overbuilding?" Arthur asked the council after telling them that 12 percent of county parkland is developed for "active" use with ball fields, lights, tennis or basketball courts.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Howard County section of The Sun misstated the amount of land in Meadowbrook Park that the county might develop for recreational use. Thirty-three acres of the 77-acre park near Ellicott City have been under consideration, not 3 acres, as reported. The Sun regrets the error.

"We don't have a lot of developable land to put these things in," he said, lamenting later that "parks used to be warm and fuzzy things" that people welcomed, "but no more."

Opponents who live near the parks counter that the county is trying to convert neighborhood parks into brightly lighted regional ones at their expense. "I think they made the right decision," said L. Scott Muller, one of the Alpha Ridge neighbors. "We're very happy."

Residents of Columbia Hills, a 30-year-old development along U.S. 29, near Meadowbrook, don't want hundreds of adults playing under bright lights within sight of their homes. Original plans called for four lighted baseball fields, a $5 million multi-use building, two soccer fields, and facilities for roller hockey, horseshoes, volleyball, basketball, tennis, playgrounds and picnicking, plus a 300-vehicle parking lot.

Those plans have been sharply scaled back, Arthur said, and a new plan will be presented to the recreation and parks board tomorrow night. The issue will be discussed with a community advisory committee May 11. Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican who set up the committee, said he is not opposed to lights, but several community members at yesterday's session said they are.

Annette Flatley, a Columbia Hills resident, said with all the lights the park would seem like a lighted ballroom across from her home.

Merdon cautioned that if the park is scaled back too much, it won't be worth developing.

The council brushed aside Arthur's attempts to persuade them to allow parking lot lights at the Alpha Ridge Park. They tentatively approved spending $130,000 to build a larger roller hockey rink than the one there now but balked at any lighting.

The director said the sport has grown from 15 people in a fledgling league in 1992 to more than 300, mostly teens, who play now. "They're mostly fifth- through ninth-graders. That's the [age] area we feel we don't do a good job with," Arthur said after the meeting.

Alpha Ridge Park was chosen for the roller rink, he said, because it has parking, roads and other park infrastructure, making the project cheaper.

He presented maps, charts and photos to show that if he is allowed to proceed with a covered, lighted roller hockey pavilion, the lights won't be visible from Frederick Road and that the parking lot lights will be on timers that will shut down no later than 10: 30 every night and be less intrusive than lights a mile west at Mount View Middle School. Lights, he said, would increase use of the rink by 55 percent.

Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western Howard Republican, said that "the community feels that security lighting is step one to bigger things," and he rejected the proposal.

"If they want to come back next year with the whole shooting match [roof and lights], they can do that," Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, said.

"I agree," Kittleman said.

The council also delayed approving $700,000 in capital budget funds to plan how to use Blandair, the 300-acre Columbia tract also known as the Smith farm. The land is tied up in a lawsuit, and Lorsung worried that the money could sit unused if the suit drags on.

Pub Date: 4/27/99

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