Path to school walkway anything but smooth

Some residents fear trail would introduce crime to community

April 13, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

A pathway for schoolchildren might seem completely benign, but some residents in Ellicott City's Hollifield Station neighborhood think it would be nothing but trouble.

They don't want it running past their houses, they don't want their children using it, they wonder who would keep it from icing over in the winter and they worry that it would bring crime.

The group of neighbors asked Howard County school officials last year not to build the path, or at least to alter its course so it didn't pass by as many homes. Now - as contractors start work on the nonaltered pathway - residents are upset and frustrated.

"The communication is very, very poor," said Mike Cavey, president of the Daniels Mill Overlook Homeowners Association, which represents residents in the neighborhood commonly known as Hollifield Station.

Pathway construction isn't typically associated with neighborhood strife. But in Howard County, it's the little things that matter. Republican County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, who represents Ellicott City and stepped into the pathway debate, has seen fights over sidewalks, too.

"It's one of those things," he said. "You think, `What's the big deal?' But obviously it evokes strong emotions on both sides."

Cavey said it is partly about expectations: Some people moved to the neighborhood to get away from pathways. Residents surveyed almost a third of the single-family homeowners last fall, and 80 percent - or 53 - were "adamantly opposed to the pathway system," he said.

The path, which is in two sections, would give children in the back of the subdivision a cut-through route to Hollifield Station Elementary School. If pupils live more than a mile away from an elementary school, which these children do, the school system must bus them. But the path would shorten the walk to just less than a mile - saving officials the expense. A bus route generally costs $35,000 a year, said Sydney L. Cousin, an associate superintendent with the school system.

After residents complained last year, school officials promised to look at alternative routes through the community. Residents had suggested a course that would pass by fewer houses, Cavey said.

He said he didn't hear any more about the project until workers appeared last month to prepare for construction of the pathway with one change residents had requested - it's half as wide. Cousin said his transportation officials, after studying the project, recommended against altering the pathway's route.

"Pathways are typical throughout Howard County," Cousin said. "Some folks want to have them so the kids can walk."

He said school officials asked for the path before developer Ryland began building Hollifield Station, and it agreed to pay for the project. Contractors recently put down stones to mark the route - it cuts across open space and is slated to run over two small creeks - and they're ready to lay asphalt.

Cavey, who met with school officials again Tuesday, wishes they would reconsider. He's one of the homeowners with an up-close view of the path.

"I probably wouldn't have bought my lot if I knew the path was going to be right next to my house," he said, noting that preliminary plans for the community didn't show a pathway there when he decided to move in.

But one neighbor's irritant is another's joy.

"I'm very happy with the pathway," said Monica Broholm, who has two sons enrolled at Hollifield Station Elementary and can watch them walk to school if they take the path. "I feel it is less dangerous."

The other route to school is a longer walk on a sidewalk that follows the community's main road. Someone could easily grab her children and drive away with them, she said. That's why she would prefer they walk on the path.

"I can see the guys go from here," Broholm said, standing on her driveway.

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