Child-care center opposed

Residents worry about extra traffic

January 17, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Hollifield Station residents have contended for months that traffic would increase tremendously if the Howard County Board of Appeals permits a large, child-care center to be built in their Ellicott City neighborhood.

Last night at a board hearing, they brought surveys and hundreds of computer-aided simulations to bolster their argument.

Residents of Hollifield Station, where Tutor Time Learning Systems Inc. wants to construct a facility for up to 200 children, collected data from three day-care facilities in Maryland on such things as the typical number of children per car and the average time for dropping them off and picking them up.

Pradip Sitaram, a resident of the area who works for a telecommunications company in Washington and previously ran computer simulations for NASA, said he plugged the information into computer programs to figure out how much traffic to expect and how quickly Tutor Time's 31-space parking lot would fill up.

"We ran a thousand different simulations," he said. "Almost every single simulation we did resulted in parking lot overflow."

If drivers parked on neighborhood roads, they would make it more dangerous for others to navigate through the community, Sitaram said.

He showed the board several dozen photographs of similar situations during Hollifield Station Elementary School events.

At 9 p.m., Thomas Meachum, Tutor Time's attorney, had not begun to cross-examine Sitaram. During a break in the hearing, the lawyer said that his traffic experts have testified that the parking lot would be adequate. The simulations didn't impress him.

"The problem is they're based on faulty assumptions that aren't realistic," Meachum said.

Board members expect to continue the hearing next month.

Tutor Time, which is based in Florida, is seeking permission to build a 10,466-square-foot facility on 2 1/2 acres at the northwest corner of Old Frederick Road and Rogers Avenue in Hollifield Station. It would be one of the biggest centers in Howard County.

Three of the 139 child-care centers in the county are at least that large, according to Janice Burris, regional manager for Howard County's Child Care Administration.

Several more have nearly 200 children, and at least 25 centers have space for 100 to 150, she said. The average enrollment in the county is 61 children.

In 1999, the county Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend rejection of the Tutor Time plan.

Andrea Marcoux, a Tutor Time district manager, said during a hearing on the plans last year that the proposed center's size is average for her company. Most of the 200 Tutor Time centers in the United States are in residential areas, she added.

Marcoux said she has visited about half the company's centers and never noticed traffic congestion. She told the board that she had no reason to believe that the center would adversely affect the neighborhood.

But residents have testified that the extra motorists entering and exiting the community could endanger neighborhood children on their way to or from Hollifield Elementary School.

Under county school system policy, most of the elementary-age children in the neighborhood must walk to school, rather than take a bus, because they live close by.

"The traffic associated with this project is not suited to our neighborhood," said Morag Weedlun, a mother of three who lives three-quarters of a mile from the proposed site.

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