HRD roads plan concerns residents near Key project

Developer seeks OK for a `loop' highway

North Laurel

January 09, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

In a sign that the developer of the Key property in southern Howard County still has a way to go in winning over neighbors, more than 60 worried residents turned out last night to voice their concerns about the developer's planned upgrade of area roads.

The developer, the Rouse Co. affiliate Howard Research and Development (HRD), is seeking state and county permission to add an access point from the Key property in North Laurel to Route 216 between the Interstate 95 interchange and the intersection with All Saints Road.

Off-ramps would cross over a new bridge and link with Whiskey Bottom, Stephens and Gorman roads to the north, creating what planners are calling "East Loop Road" around the 665-acre Key property in a U-shape.

The upgrade, which would be funded by HRD, also would add a lane to Route 216 east of I- 95 and a left-turn lane at the busy Route 216 and All Saints Road intersection.

If approved, HRD would like to begin road work by the fall, said Michael Haley, a State Highway Administration regional planner.

But many of those attending last night's information session at Laurel Woods Elementary School hope to block the work, or at least delay it.

Neighbors worry that the new ramp from Route 216 to the loop road would force the removal of dozens of trees along Route 216, reducing the buffer between the road and homes to its south.

Earlier issue of trees

Resident John Wilton said his neighborhood association had been told it couldn't remove some of the same trees to build a playground because the trees were under a preservation easement.

"What entitled them to do that, when we can't so much as snap a twig?" added neighbor Andreas Fleckenstein, who moved within a stone's throw of Route 216 three months ago, unaware of the impending expansion. "They seem to be trying to push this through quickly."

Haley acknowledged that the upgrade likely would require cutting into part of a Forest Conservation Parcel alongside Route 216, but he said HRD could win approval for this by agreeing to add to its preserved forest holdings elsewhere.

Some neighbors favor plan

Some neighbors looked more favorably on the proposed road upgrades, saying it made sense to give Key property residents and employees an access off Route 216, rather than funneling them through the All Saints Road intersection.

"The reality of what's on the board today is more of a plus than a negative," said Martin LePore, who has lived just south of Route 216 for 26 years.

The HRD development will be marketed under the name "Emerson" but is commonly called "Key" because of its prime location - straddling I-95 and bounded by Gorman Road and Route 216.

The project calls for 2 million square feet of commercial space and 1,200 housing units.

Winning approval for the road improvements is the next hurdle for HRD, which suffered a setback last month when the Columbia Association voted against annexing the Key development.

HRD had wanted to persuade the association to pay for recreational amenities in return for letting the association collect property assessments from residents.

Widening Route 216

Its application for road upgrades comes as the state prepares to widen Route 216 west of I-95.

That work, which will cost the state about $23 million, is to accommodate developer Stuart J. Greenebaum's plans for Maple Lawn Farms, a near-mirror image of the Key project: about 1,100 housing units and 1.2 million square feet of commercial space on about 500 acres of a Fulton turkey farm.

Impact of two big projects

It was no surprise, local slow-growth advocate John Taylor said before yesterday's meeting, that the two giant projects were forcing an expansion of Route 216, which for years was a rural, two-lane road.

"If you pack an area with more density and employment intensity, you can only do so much with the local roads," he said. "The next logical question is, `What do you do?' That's when you get the snowballing effect."

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