Impact of wider road studied

Experts disagree on effect Route 32 has on development

Safety issues discussed

March 21, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Polite disagreement prevailed yesterday at a meeting of land-use experts convened to predict the impact that widening Route 32 in western Howard County would have on development in the region.

The state has assembled the nine-member panel of land-use experts to help in deciding how best to alleviate congestion and dangerous traffic conditions on the two-lane portion of Route 32 between Clarksville and West Friendship.

The state is considering three options for the segment: adding two more lanes and interchanges, adding interchanges only, and leaving the road as is.

At yesterday's meeting, near Route 32 in Kings Contrivance, some panel members predicted that expanding the road would greatly encourage new home development in western Howard and western Carroll counties.

"If we build road capacity, definitely, the demand will come," said Seth Harry, a Woodbine developer.

Expanding Route 32 would increase the pressure on county officials to loosen zoning rules to accommodate new housing in western Howard and Carroll, said Joseph M. Cronyn, a real estate expert from Columbia.

"I heard a lot of posturing [from county officials] that they'd be able to hold the line. But after 25 years in the real estate business, I've seen a few rezonings happen, and I think they're going to happen," Cronyn said.

"Demand drives zoning discussions, and public officials can't long withstand that," said Cronyn.

In addition, argued panelist Dan Pontious, director of the Baltimore Regional Partnership, speeding the commute down Route 32 from western Howard and Carroll would likely increase the value of undeveloped land there, encouraging landowners to sell to builders.

Already, he said, some who work in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport corridor are considering homes in western Carroll because of Route 32.

Leaving the road with two lanes, he said, would lead to about 7,000 fewer homes in the Route 32 area.

"In the race between preserving land and developing it, preservation will look better to landowners because of the lower demand for homes," said Pontious.

Others disagreed, saying that the condition of Route 32 was just one of many factors determining development in the area.

"To me, the supply issue outweighs the demand issue," said Nancy Lefenfeld, a Columbia market analyst. "It's hard to see that widening one roadway translates into that much pressure."

Donald F. Hilderbrandt, a Columbia urban designer, said he was worried that leaving Route 32 at two lanes would push more traffic onto secondary roads in western Howard, raising safety risks on them in addition to Route 32.

Richard Hull, a Carroll County developer, agreed that safety was paramount, saying that "we're killing a disproportionate number of people on [the two-lane segment of Route 32] already."

Other panelists dismissed this argument, saying that their charge was only to assess a road widening's effect on development.

In any case, Pontious said, while there was a high number of fender benders on the road, the rate of serious accidents had declined in recent years.

The panel is expected to produce a final recommendation to the state this spring.

Faced with so many different development projections at this stage, panelist James R. Cohen joked, the panel should agree to meet again in 2020 to see who was right.

"Yeah - if we can get here [on Route 32]," answered another.

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