Looking for wide open spaces

Cars: A plan to give Dulaney High students more space to park creates anger among residents who say they are tired of the trash, danger and unruly teens.

March 04, 2000|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The year Dulaney High School senior Matt Ammlung turned 16, he became the proud owner of his first car -- a black Acura Integra.

Ditto for his friend, Taylor Rupp, who got a maroon Honda Accord, and Andy Rudell, owner of a green Honda Passport.

For those not in the know, turning 16 and getting your own set of wheels is practically a rite of passage at Dulaney High. And that, say neighbors, is part of the problem.

The Timonium school has too many cars and too few parking spaces. Nearly every inch of curb space in the neighborhood is crammed with Cherokees, Acuras and Mercedes Benzes.

A county councilman has proposed a bill that would offer a partial solution. It would allow students to park on one side of Treherne Road, which has residents-only parking. Treherne borders the campus on the south and has remained student-free for almost 30 years. But the bill has encountered fierce opposition from homeowners who don't want cars lining the street.

"This bill is pitting neighbor against neighbor," says Paula Carroll, who has lived on Treherne Road for 24 years. "You have this street fighting against that street to move the students elsewhere. You have neighbors trying to join forces against student parking.

"And all this effort is for a third party that doesn't even live in the community."

Students view the 1,600-foot stretch of asphalt as premium parking space. Treherne, which wraps around behind the school, is a five-minute walk to the school's front doors.

School officials say allowing students to park on Treherne Road from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday will not solve the problem -- only 78 cars will fit -- but it will ease the situation.

Of the 1,700 students at Dulaney High, about 500 are registered to drive to school. There are 344 parking spaces available on campus, but 160 of those are reserved for faculty.

The result is a huge spillover onto neighborhood streets.

"The bottom line is, residents don't want the students there," says Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican and sponsor of the bill. "Well, there is nowhere else to push them. This is a problem that has been going on for years now and is only getting worse."

With the number of young drivers increasing every year, homeowners across the country are finding themselves blocked in by students squeezed out of on-campus high school parking.

Every morning, Ammlung and his two friends arrive in separate cars almost an hour before the 7: 45 bell to grab parking on Padonia Road in front of school. It's all about timing, they say.

While they wait for school to start, friends stop to talk and jam to the hip hop-hard rock sounds of Limp Bizkit. In no time, cars line both sides of Padonia from Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens north to Girdwood Road, a distance of about a mile.

Pretty soon, almost all the parking space is gone. Parents pull up to the school to drop off students, and 28 yellow buses -- most half-full, some with only one passenger -- bring more.

Assistant Principal Melinda Garvin stands in the middle of Padonia, a two-lane road, at a crosswalk. She is wearing a fluorescent orange vest. She holds a red STOP sign in one hand and uses the other to halt traffic. This is the only way students can cross this busy street safely, Garvin says.

Eleven accidents occurred on the short stretch of Padonia Road from Treherne to Girdwood roads in 1998, county police statistics show. All took place during six months of the school year.

Residents say they're concerned about student safety. But they blame the county and school system for not providing enough parking.

Dulaney could pave over playing fields to create more parking, but at a cost of almost $200,000 for 150 spaces. That's money that neither the county nor the school system wants to spend, especially with Treherne sitting empty.

"We don't feel that this is an unusual request at all," says Principal Lyle Patzkowsky, referring to Skinner's bill. "We want to create a safer situation for our students. If they park there, it will allow us to monitor their behavior. If we get resident complaints, we'll pull their student permits. We'll address the problem immediately."

Some residents argue that the road is too narrow for student parking. But what worries them most are the students themselves.

Residents complain their front lawns are littered with fast-food wrappers, cigarette butts and soda cans. They say that thumping music shakes their windows and that students loiter in the park behind their homes.

In the 2 1/2 years that Matthew Cohee and his family have lived on Treherne, his German shepherd was hit by a car one day after school let out, a brawl between two football teams spilled into his front yard, and his mother-in-law's car was rear-ended by a student driving her father's sport utility vehicle.

"The young girl was distracted because she was beeping and waving at some friends," says Cohee, 34. "She was frantic about how her father was going to kill her. The fight was between rival football teams with about a dozen boys. Fists were flying.

"My father-in-law asked them to leave," Cohee says. "They threw some obscenities at him and walked off."

Little wonder that a neighborhood flier circulating in the area suggests that the county "charge student drivers to park on high school campuses." The flier also states that "students are driving to school rather than using your `tax dollar' paid busing."

Dulaney students say the complaints are unfounded. Many say they drive because they have part-time jobs or participate in after-school activities.

"Oh yeah. We're just a bunch of rich kids," Ammlung says, rolling his eyes. "We don't have any respect for property. We don't care about anyone. We get our kicks off cursing at old people. Well, not all of us are like that."

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