Bypass hope dead-ends at commission

Planning panel drops land for road from master plan

`A weight is gone'

Farm property was option for route since 1962

October 17, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | By Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll's Planning Commission doused any hope for reviving the Westminster bypass yesterday when it voted to delete land long set aside for the road from the county's master plan.

The request to remove the land from the master plan was made by James Harris, owner of a 100-acre farm on the outskirts of the city on which the road would have been built. The property has been included in every bypass option proposed since 1962.

Harris, who pays about $5,000 annually in property taxes, argued that 40 years was more than enough time to decide where the bypass would go. It was too long, he said, for the county to hold his land hostage for the project, which lacks state funding.

"I am relieved, and it's about time," said Harris after yesterday's unanimous vote. "When I retire in two years, I will decide whether to sell or develop. I am not sure which yet. But, for the first time in my life, I feel my property is mine, like a weight is gone."

The county has paid no compensation to Harris or to most of the other landowners with properties in the path of the proposed bypass.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening scrapped the Westminster bypass nearly three years ago with a similar project for Manchester, saying the roads would promote sprawl.

The state recently completed several improvements to Route 140, including widening the highway through the city. The county and Westminster are studying other possible improvements, none of which include Harris' farm, which lies outside city limits.

"Is it morally or ethically right to hold somebody up for all these years?" asked David Brauning, planning commissioner.

Edward Beard, commission chairman, said, "It is unreasonable to tie up property with no funds."

Only the city of Westminster objected. It asked the commission to defer its decision until a $166,000 traffic study is complete. Engineers are reviewing several options and improvements to key intersections.

"The study recognizes that the bypass is no longer there and looks for ways to improve circulation by giving traffic alternative routes," said Jeanne Joiner, county director of planning.

About 55,000 cars travel Route 140 through Westminster daily. Traffic congestion is expected to worsen as stores and housing developments in the area reach completion.

"The transportation decision has been made before the county's own transportation study is approved - what a wonderful planning process," said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster director of planning and public works, with a touch of sarcasm. "Maybe in the endthis is the right choice, but this is not the right time to make it."

The bypass has followed several possible routes since it was first envisioned. Most recently, it would have been a five-mile stretch on the north side of Route 140 from near Reese Road to north of Hughes Shop Road.

"Westminster still opposes this action," said Katrina L. Tucker, city planner. "Why not keep this plan in place until a new plan is adopted? It is premature to delete this property from the plan. We are closing the door and eliminating options."

Deleting the Harris property on Brehm Road will not affect county plans for a new road from Route 27 north to Route 97, county planners said.

"We are trying to retain the portion of the road and tie it into Route 140," said Joiner. "That road is still possible."

Harris, while applauding the planning commission's decision, said it nevertheless "opens a can of worms. Others will probably make similar requests, and they won't be able to treat them differently."

In other business, the commission approved a site plan for the first phase of Westminster Bond. The 185-unit retirement community is set for a 19-acre parcel on Bond Street, Westminster.

The property formerly was Frock's Farm, a popular restaurant, reception hall and pool complex. The Westminster Bond homes will be restricted to residents who are age 62 and older.

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