Building plans create worry

Planning board hears neighbors' concerns over Taylor proposal

June 04, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Despite Shelley Wygant's best efforts, the largest swath of undeveloped land in Ellicott City -- about 400 acres of fields, streams and woodlands -- is falling prey to suburban sprawl.

Wygant was one of at least a dozen Ellicott City residents who came to a Howard County Planning Board meeting yesterday to protest two housing developments planned on property owned by Dr. Bruce Taylor, medical director and chief executive officer of Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City.

The planning board unanimously approved one of the housing projects, Worthington Fields, which paves the way for 144 homes on 88 acres off scenic New Cut Road.

The board began a hearing on nearby Autumn View V, which would put 178 homes on about 83 acres off College Avenue, but postponed a vote until June 17.

"We would all prefer to be enjoying our homes of an evening instead of poring over site plans and saying, `My God, what is happening to the community we love?' " said Wygant, president of a newly formed neighborhood association that encompasses about 275 homes on College Avenue, New Cut Road, Bonnie Branch Road and Beechwood Road.

"We're not anti-development," she said. "We want sensible development."

The 400 or so undeveloped acres owned by Taylor in Ellicott City, many believe, give the town much of its character. Taylor has slowly been developing his property over the past 20 years or so and plans to continue developing for at least the next 10, said Donald L. Reuwer, president of Land Design and Development Inc. in Columbia. Reuwer is project manager for Worthington Fields, Autumn View V and several other developments on Taylor land in various stages of planning and completion.

In all, Reuwer plans more than 600 single-family homes and townhouses on Taylor property that is now undeveloped. He says he'll build about 40 a year for the next 10 or 12 years.

Although allowed to testify yesterday only about Worthington Fields, neighbors said they worry about the cumulative effect of the developments on their neighborhoods.

They worry about area schools becoming more crowded, about dangerous congestion on winding roads, and about the impact of the developments on the historic district of Ellicott City.

"It sounds like the traffic study is being conducted by ostriches," said Dick Plenge of Mulligans Hill Lane in Ellicott City. "Dig a hole, put their head in the ground, say everything's cool."

"What we suffer from in this county is alienation, fragmentation of neighborhoods and loss of community," said Lee Walker Oxenham, a resident of Roundhill Road. "We need our schools to be centers of our community. We do not need them to be overcrowded."

Many people at the hearing expressed concern about the fate of nearby scenic roads.

Board is limited

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, cautioned the board not to make promises to the community that those roads would never be widened or changed to accommodate the increased traffic.

"You don't want to send out a message that no changes will ever be made to a scenic road," he said. "I don't think that's fair to the community."

Rutter said that all of those concerns, while legitimate, do not fall within the purview of the Planning Board. The board can only consider certain specific criteria, including environmental impact, protection of wetlands and sensitive areas, and buffers to protect existing neighborhoods.

Neighbors also expressed concern about the safety of the Worthington Fields development, which is located north and east of the former New Cut Road landfill.

"Methane gas is an ongoing concern for all of us in the neighborhood," Wygant said.

Reuwer said he would not develop the bulk of Worthington Fields until after 2007 to give the county time to clean up the landfill.

Rutter said if the landfill poses a problem down the line, the county will address it, but that also is not the job of the Planning Board.

"If the county determined that they needed the land for protection of the landfill, then the appropriate thing to do would be to purchase the land," he said.

Last fall, the Planning Board approved plans for Reuwer's Autumn River development, which calls for 82 single-family homes and 17 townhouses off College Avenue. The state Department of Natural Resources expressed interest in adding the land to the Patapsco Valley State Park.

Wygant said neighbors are still organizing their position.

More developments coming

Reuwer said final plans have been approved for Autumn View III, located off Bonnie Branch Road. Construction of some of the development's 72 homes will begin this summer, he said.

Autumn View IV, which will come before the Planning Board in July, could add more than a hundred other single family homes and townhouses, he said.

Rutter said Autumn View IV could run into problems with a pending moratorium on building in the area that is expected to take place in July.

Some neighbors seemed frustrated that the development plans for Taylor's property were split into different proposals with different names, rather than being considered all at once, which would make their cumulative impact clearer.

Joan Lancos, a member of the planning board, said the owner chose to present the plans separately and the board had to consider them separately.

"We may realize there are other developments taking place, but this is the case we need to consider on its merits today," she said.

By the end of the hearing on the two properties, Wygant was obviously frustrated.

"The process seems clearly rigged so that it locks out community involvement," she said.

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