300 gather to discuss park plans

Most residents oppose facilities that could attract outsiders

Ball fields accepted

Some business people fear competition from pavilions, parking

January 11, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Over 300 residents gathered in a banquet hall on a former dairy farm in Glenwood last night to protest Howard County's plans to develop a $10 million western regional park with facilities they fear could draw large crowds and compete with local entrepreneurs.

Throughout the two-hour session, the message was clear -- western county residents want a park with lots of playing fields, but they don't want an amphitheater, picnic pavilions large enough for corporate parties and alcoholic beverages in the park.

"Pavilions are a real sore point for serving alcohol," said John Botts of Glenwood. "There are two schools nearby. I don't want that."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Howard County edition of The Sun yesterday about opposition to the planned Western Regional Park in Glenwood incorrectly reported that Tammy Sturges has grandchildren who play in another park. She has no grandchildren and was referring to other people's children. The Sun regrets the error.

Some residents want no park at all, and some, like Paul Shoffeitt, who lives near Glenwood, don't want amenities such as paved running paths.

Tammy Sturges, who lives near Glenwood, sounded a warning note. In the 1970s, she said, she fought hard against Warfield Pond Park near her home but later changed her mind. She likes the facility's footpaths and her grandchildren have a place to play.

"I fought every which way against it. Thank God I was defeated," Sturges said.

Those at the meeting said they wanted to make sure that their opinions on the proposal mattered.

Gary J. Arthur, county recreation and parks director, said they did.

Since 1995, he said, no more than 50 citizens attended each of three planning meetings on the western regional park.

"Wow! What a way to create a forum for discussion of the park!" he said after introducing himself.

Arthur explained to residents that only 12 percent of the 8,000 acres of parkland in Howard is developed for active recreational use. He said his department is responding to the need for more services and facilities, such as picnic areas and playing fields, as the western county's population grows.

Arthur defended the western park plan for more than an hour and took the brunt of the criticism. County Executive James H. Robey was invited, but did not attend.

The county is building a large branch library at the proposed park's edge on Route 97 at Carrs Mill Road. A new fire station and community/senior citizens center are also planned on the 180-acre tract.

County officials said they were taken aback by the opposition because those views did not surface during several community planning meetings held in the western county in 1997.

Residents want more ball fields and open space but oppose features they fear will attract large crowds from outside and facilities that will compete with farms that offer picnic and recreational activities.

Residents particularly object to several suggestions in a consultant's proposed park master plan. As a result, the county Recreation and Parks Board has tabled plans for an amphitheater and a 4-acre pond.

Residents are also alarmed that the proposed park could provide parking for up to 7,000 vehicles for an event and have five picnic pavilions, the two largest of which could accommodate 150 and 300 people respectively.

Some residents don't want people who don't live in the western county to be drawn to a park for large social events and those who provide space for similar activities on their farms fear competition.

The meeting was held in the top-floor banquet room in the three-story, 40,000-square-foot building on the former dairy farm of Timothy Dowd, a mile west of the park on Carrs Mill Road.

Dowd leases space on the first floor to Rick Kain and his wife, Susan, for their Triumph Health and Fitness Center. The Kains fear they will lose business to the exercise programs the county plans to offer at the proposed park. Arthur denied the park would compete with the Kains because the community center would not be as well equipped.

Randall Nixon, who operates a family farm off nearby Route 32 in West Friendship, and Fenby Moore, who grows berries and fruit at his Larriland Farm in Woodbine, fear their picnic facilities could lose business.

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