Advisory panel votes to scale back plan for park near Ellicott City

Board says more acres should be left untouched

April 29, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

In response to criticism from neighbors, the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks Advisory Board voted 5 to 1 last night to scale back plans to develop a park on part of a 77-acre lot near Ellicott City.

The board deadlocked 3 to 3 about whether to allow lights at the facility, which neighbors oppose.

The seventh board member, Mary "Clem" Aquilea, was absent because of health problems.

The meeting was tense as those who believe space is needed for passive recreation -- walking and bird-watching -- debated with those who want more active recreation -- ball fields and tennis courts.

"There are two focuses here -- the desire for recreation and the desire to keep areas unlit and forested," said board member Alvin Starr.

Gary J. Arthur, director of Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, argued that the county needs more ball fields.

Residents of the Columbia Hills/Meadowbrook Farm Community Association adjacent to the proposed park have said repeatedly they worry about noise, crime and traffic and don't want lights shining into their windows at night.

Such debates have become more frequent as the county becomes more developed and more people compete to use fewer open spaces for recreation.

"These folks have children, and their children are going to have children," Arthur said. "We have to think about the land that is available to us now to develop for future generations."

He said 88 percent of parkland in the county is undeveloped.

Arthur argued for lights to allow more people to use the proposed park, but some board members thought that would be unfair to nearby communities who oppose them.

"I think it would be a betrayal of this community to put lights in the park," Starr said, speaking to the 20 or so audience members, many of whom were from the Columbia Hills/Meadowbrook Farm community.

The original plans for the park, presented this month, called for developing 33 acres and leaving 44 acres undisturbed. Recreation and parks officials proposed building a roller rink, four baseball/softball fields, two basketball courts, two tennis courts, two playgrounds, two picnic pavilions, two restrooms, a volleyball court, a horseshoe area and two multipurpose fields.

In the revised plans, which the board approved, more acres would be left undeveloped, and two fewer soccer fields and one less softball field would be built.

The recommendation of the board for a scaled-back plan will be sent to the county executive and County Council.

Richard Ely, president of the Columbia Hills/Meadowbrook Farm Community Association, said he was encouraged by the board's action.

"I'm pleased that we're making progress," he said.

Pub Date: 4/29/99

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