Plan to light park's fields hotly debated

Backers say children need extended hours for organized sports

Executive, council to rule

Foes fear that noise and crime will follow if facilities used late


January 11, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

If five athletic fields included in the proposed Western Regional Park in Glenwood are equipped with lights, the rural atmosphere of the area will be lost, residents of the Howard County community say.

People in favor of the lighted fields say it would help ease the lack of recreation space for thousands of county children who are involved in organized sports by extending hours of use.

About 200 people debated the issue at a public meeting last night across Carrs Mill Road from the parkland. The meeting was held at a private athletic facility, a building illuminated by its own bright outdoor lights.

Gary J. Arthur, the county recreation and parks director, said the large park is still in the planning stages, but youth athletic leaders asked last month that lights be considered for some fields. Arthur said he wanted more public comment on the lighting issue.

Ultimately, County Executive James N. Robey and the County Council will decide whether lights are included. Modern directed lights, Arthur said, won't illuminate nearby homes and most of the land - about 100 acres - would be left wooded or as pasture.

But for Jack Goetz, and for several others, it is the prospect of later park hours and the accompanying noise, not the lights themselves, that is unacceptable.

"What we're concerned about is that the park will be open until 11 p.m. Noise travels. We can hear a car rolling down Route 97," he said.

Sports league boosters who want lights said they seek them only on five fields that are closest to the new Glenwood library and the proposed site of a new community/senior center and a commercial strip shopping center. Lights would be on at those places anyway, they said.

"The field situation in western Howard County is a nightmare," said Joe Markowrdt, a soccer league official who appeared along with others from five county youth leagues for soccer, lacrosse and baseball. "In early spring and late fall, we're picking kids up in pitch dark, and it's very unsafe."

There is little space left for sports in the more heavily populated eastern Howard County.

But many western residents were unconvinced. "I don't want to see Glenwood turn into Clarkesville," said Alicanne M. Alden, referring to the suburbanization of the once rural crossroads at the intersection of Routes 108 and 32.

Others chanted, "Move to Columbia," when parents said they want more time and fields for their children's sports leagues.

Howard Rensin complained that "you're going to light up this whole end of the county. When the sun goes down, it ought to be dark."

Jeff Lanuza, a Glenwood resident who said he is a Prince George's County police officer, said late hours and wooded pathways are invitations to criminals. "In Columbia, trust me, those [paths] are felony freeways," he said. Western Howard, he added, is typically patrolled by only one or two county officers.

Plans for Western Regional Park sparked intense opposition exactly one year ago, when nearly 400 western county residents came to the same hall atop the three-story athletic facility building on Tim Dowd's Circle D Farm.

At that meeting, residents railed against county plans for a small amphitheater, large corporate picnic pavilions, a small lake and plans to allow alcohol - ideas that ultimately were scrapped by the county.

Dowd and Randall Nixon, owners of private farms who have their own, separate for-profit recreational and social facilities, complained that the county park would hurt their businesses.

Others feared that the park would draw large, sometimes unruly crowds to their pastoral area.

And immediate neighbors worried that park users might bother their horses and create traffic jams on rural Carrs Mill Road.

The strong public reaction then prompted two actions: Robey scaled back the park plans to suit the residents, and Arthur, the parks director, changed the county's process for park planning to solicit more and earlier comment from people who live in the affected areas.

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