Private soccer complex demonstrates support

Traffic, noise, lights worry neighbors

November 30, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

A 6,000-player group proposing to build a soccer complex in Ellicott City - one of a very few in Maryland that would be privately owned - is hoping to appease opponents just as it has won over members of an activist community group.

But it's clear that immediate neighbors won't be easily swayed. They have uneasy visions of thousands of cars clogging Centennial Lane, their only access to the outside world. They can already imagine the boisterous noise of announcers and cheering crowds. And they can visualize light from the fields shining their way.

In a second hearing on the project, Howard County's Board of Appeals weighed appeals last night from supporters and testimony from designers about the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County's plans for the 52-acre complex. As of 9:30 p.m., the board had not heard opponents' testimony.

The proposal calls for 10 fields; a building with administrative offices, a concession stand and a covered pavilion; two shelters; and parking for 600. Organizers say it would be the largest privately owned soccer complex in Maryland.

Jim Carlan, president of the soccer association, said before the hearing that the fields would be used for summer clinics and for competition in the spring and fall on Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays. Four of the fields would be lighted.

He doesn't expect a traffic problem because games wouldn't be scheduled during peak travel hours. He said his group would begin by using only some of the fields to test traffic patterns and work out kinks.

"The biggest howl if there's a traffic problem is not going to be from the neighbors - it's going to be from our own people," Carlan said.

But some neighbors are already upset. Don Pratt, who lives off Centennial Lane, said before the hearing that soccer tournaments at Centennial Park, across the street from the proposed complex, have clogged the lane with cars. He expects problems if people show up for games at additional fields.

He and other residents proposed a compromise to the county this week: Have the soccer association move its entrance a few hundred feet north to Maxine Street and install a traffic light at that location.

"There needs to be some adjustments made to better serve the community," Pratt said.

It's not clear whether the county would approve the idea. Joseph W. Rutter Jr., the county's planning director, told residents by e-mail this week that the likelihood of the intersection meeting the criteria for a light isn't good.

William Malone, chief of the traffic engineering division at the county Department of Public Works, can't weigh in because his staff doesn't evaluate new developments for stop lights until after zoning approval. He said the intersection would need high traffic volume at various times during the week and sufficient sight distance for oncoming drivers to see people waiting at the light.

"It's a big question mark," he said.

Many of the residents involved with Centennial Citizens for Responsible Development, which fought earlier plans for townhouses on the land, are relieved by the idea of soccer - and several of them told the board so last night. They're pleased that the soccer association agreed to a detailed set of promises about hours, lighting and traffic.

"I think in the end, we have similar goals," said Elaine Ireland, co-chair of the group.

Chuck Lacey Jr., who designed the lighting for the soccer complex, told board members that the height and other details of the lights would prevent them from brightening nearby properties at night. Holding equipment that measures light intensity, he said: "By the time you get to Centennial Lane, it might be beyond the scale of the light meter to even read it."

"Does this mean there will be no glow at all?" asked David Kinsley, a Centennial resident.

Fog would create a glow, Lacey acknowledged. "On nights other than a night like tonight, there would be no sky glow - none at all," he said.

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