It's Home 1, Pavement 0

Activist: When Brent Loveless set out to protect his Howard home, people said he had no chance. They were wrong.

March 18, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

At first, hardly anyone knew anything about Howard County Project #J4186.

The plan -- to construct a left-turn lane at Whiskey Bottom Road at U.S. 1 in North Laurel -- lay buried among other road construction projects in the county's proposed 2001 capital budget. The proposal was a mere blip on the screen of what had been a year filled with high-profile battles over development and animal shelter hours.

But that was before Brent Loveless found out about it.

The North Laurel man sprang into action to save the street where his family has lived for more than half a century. What followed was months of hard work, gathering data and galvanizing neighbors to fight the $1.8 million project.

His effort paid off this week. Speaking at a budget hearing Monday, Loveless methodically listed the reasons why the plan should be scrapped: loss of trees, expense, residents' opposition. As Loveless paused for a response, Howard County Executive James N. Robey uttered the words no one in the room expected to hear.

The project had been canceled.

"I was pretty surprised," Loveless said as he sat in his mother's kitchen, surrounded by paperwork he had compiled to battle the plan. "The initial sense was that it was pretty much a done deal, so it was a shock to find out it wasn't."

Not even his mother thought he could pull it off. Mary Ann Loveless said that while she was proud of her son for taking on the effort, she warned him not to get his hopes up.

"I told Brent, `There is no way you are going to win,' " Mrs. Loveless said. "I told him I thought it was a good exercise for him but to forgot about stopping the project. Afterwards, I just sat there like `He did it.' "

It's not as if Loveless, 30, doesn't have other things to do. A contractor with the Department of Defense, Loveless is get- ting married this fall and is also preparing to purchase his childhood home in the 9500 block of Whiskey Bottom Road from his parents.

It was the love of that home and his family's strong ties to the community that propelled him into action, Loveless said.

"My father built this house, and my grandfather built the one next to it," he said. "My uncle still lives next door. We take a lot of pride in our neighborhood."

Loveless' grandfather, Joseph E. Loveless Sr., purchased more than 5 acres on Whiskey Bottom in the mid-1930s, and it was there he built his family home. In 1966, his son Flavey W. Loveless built his home next door, and it was there that Brent Loveless spent his childhood.

The left-turn lane was planned less than half a mile from his parents' house and, if successful, it would have meant widening the road and the loss of a portion of the front yard where he played as a child. Loveless said he had seen too many trees cut down and too many residents disheartened about developments they couldn't stop for him not to fight against the plan.

"There's such a push around her to subdivide, and there is really an aggressive effort to develop," he said. "People feel like they don't have any control over their community anymore."

With almost no knowledge of where to start, Loveless hit the streets. The county had said the turn lane was needed to reduce the number of traffic accidents involving left-turning drivers.

So Loveless stood for an hour, camera poised, on one side of Whiskey Bottom as vehicles whizzed by him and horns blared. His mission: shoot a roll of film that showed that aggressive drivers in all lanes were the cause of accidents, not just those trying to make a left.

He also drafted a petition and knocked on the doors of 60 homes that would be affected by the widening of the road, collecting signatures of those who opposed it.

He constructed a sophisticated presentation using color photos and state-of-the-art graphics to show how dangerous the project could be for residents who have to back out of their driveways to get onto the road.

Pretty soon, the whole community was rallied.

"People really took it above and beyond what they were asked to do," said Emma Travis-Howard, who has lived near Whiskey Bottom for more than four years and who helped gather information for Loveless. "They started e-mailing and writing letters to the council."

Monday night, Robey stunned the crowd at the meeting as he remarked, "I met with the director of public works today, and that project will not go forward." Jubilant neighbors crowded around a surprised Loveless, shaking his hand and patting him on the back. "There was just no support in the community whatsoever," said James M. Irvin, director of public works for Howard County. "The request originally came from the community, and since the community doesn't want it, we are not going forward with it."

Brent Loveless said this is not the end for him. Now that he's gotten a taste of civic activism, Loveless said he is turning his attention to how he can do more for North Laurel.

"This is just the beginning for me," he said, smiling.

Pub Date: 3/18/00

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