Bulldozing stirs emotions, creates difficult choices


June 28, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BULLDOZERS ARE changing the well-loved fields on Landing Road, and residents are grieving.

The housing developments are planned and approved, but ties to the land run deep.

The property, long a part of Trinity School, sits adjacent to a wide, gradual curve on Landing Road -- a meandering country road linking Ilchester Road in Ellicott City to Montgomery Road in Elkridge.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have owned the school since 1933. They sold nearly 100 acres along Landing Road to Grovemont Development LLC.

The road rises as it rounds the curve. At one time, a traveler could see the rolling fields, the trees on either side of the drive that leads to the school, and in the far distance the Tudor-style, half-timbered school buildings.

On the other side of the road, the forests of Patapsco Valley State Park provide the fragrance and coolness of woods, even in deep summer. The exquisitepastoral setting had remained the same for as long as one could remember.

No longer.

Bulldozers began working on June 15, said project manager Clark Sperry.

The developer cleared approximately five acres of woods on the parcel closest to Ilchester Road and hauled three trailer-loads of logs away.

Thursday, skidders -- bulldozer-like machines with claws -- grabbed remnants of small trees and brought them close to a giant tub-grinder. Two large machines fed the branches and trunks to the grinder, which turned steadily counterclockwise.

The debris whirled and chunked in the grinder. Occasionally, shreds of wood erupted from the open top. Dust rose from the center of the tub as it finished a load.

The shredded trees moved by conveyor belt onto a pile. By late morning, the pile was at least 20 feet high and a bulldozer moved back and forth at the top to level the chips and make room for more.

The rolling fields were shaped into angular brown forms to hold sediment traps and four water-management ponds.

The school's wrought-iron entrance gates had disappeared. An evergreen shrub sat upended in a field.

The heavy equipment matted the grass in some places. Machines had cleared the land down to its orange subsoils to create a flat surface.

Norma Smith, who lives off Ilchester Road in Ellicott City, burst into tears when she saw the construction. Elkridge residents Betty Mastrioni and Joe Thornton said they felt sick.

The parcel is among the largest being developed in Elkridge, but it is by no means the only one.

Jim Rogers, who chairs the Planning And Zoning Committee for the Greater Elkridge Community Association, says there is a "good bit of development" now in our neighborhood.

Much of it is "pocket development," he said -- several houses built on small parcels.

Much of the land being developed in Elkridge and Ellicott City is sloped and rugged. Earth-moving and contouring is needed to make those sites flat enough for building.

Joe Thornton and his wife, Polly, are also upset about a development on 10 acres close to their home on Montgomery Road.

The Thorntons bought their seven-acre lot in 1958. It had been a large farm, Joe Thornton says, and was broken up into deep five- to 10-acre lots that ran from Montgomery Road to Rockburn Branch Park.

Their lot runs 1,800 feet "straight back," he said.

The Thorntons have raised their children, Amy and David, there. They poured energy into creating a rich wildlife habitat in their yard.

Flowers surround the house. A wooden feeder filled with suet attracts woodpeckers. Pink honeysuckle entwines the railing of the deck.

A monarch butterfly flitters from flower to flower. A mockingbird rests on the deck rail, twigs for a nest trailing from its beak.

Beyond the yard is a fenced pasture with two horses, a ramshackle barn, a shed, a pond and trees. In the farther field stands a log cabin that David built when he was 14. He found the logs, made the timbers, chinked the walls with mortar and built a stone fireplace in the one large room.

Beyond the cabin, the lot extends into woods bordering Rockburn Branch Park. Tulip poplars stretch 100 feet to the sky. Ferns grow in profusion. It is cool and tranquil.

So many days, when she came home from work as a nurse, Polly says, she would walk in the woods. "It was better than any tranquilizer."

David now lives with his wife, Janice, and baby daughter Megan on property owned by Polly and Joe two doors west of his parents' home on Montgomery Road. It is adjacent to Rockburn Run, a "cul-de-sac of 15 select homes from the low $230s."

Rockburn Run is built on one of the original parcels, like the one owned by the Thorntons.

Toward the end of the cul-de-sac, close to the park, a new house sits picture-perfect on resplendent green sod. A plastic container with purple petunias hangs on the mailbox.

Closer to Montgomery Road, the earth has been bulldozed and the lots are bare.

A dappled white horse grazes in the pasture of the lot west of the Rockburn Run development. That lot is the home of Mary and Earl Strain.

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