Future plaza traffic a worry

Neighbors fear revival will bring too many cars

Residents do like plans for site

Road projects could ease redevelopment concerns

July 04, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Neighbors of Parole Plaza are thrilled that it is being redeveloped after years of deterioration, but with the start of demolition only 10 days away, they say they are also worried that the planned mix of stores and high-rise condominiums will push nearby roads from clogged to downright impassable.

Greenberg Commercial Corp. of Owings Mills, the developer of the $400 million project, has said it will go beyond county requirements to make traffic flow as smoothly as possible.

The state is also building a ramp from U.S. 50 to Solomons Island Road (Route 2) that county officials say will alleviate some of the traffic pressure on the Parole area.

But that is not enough to ease the fears of residents, who spend their mornings and afternoons crawling along the congested area bound by Solomons Island Road, West Street, Riva Road and Forest Drive. The plaza sits in the middle of that area.

"It's looking like the transportation aspect of this project will be considered in isolation, and that's not good enough," said John Fischer, who was chairman of a committee of residents that developed a comprehensive plan for the area two years ago.

Fischer met with Greenberg officials last month and said he was impressed by their ideas - but worried that their traffic-management plans would not go far enough. He said he does not blame the developer as much as he blames the county for not considering public transportation or road extensions for the area.

Brian J. Gibbons, president and chief executive of Greenberg, said some of the concerns about traffic are premature because his company has not completed its study of area roads. Gibbons said the redevelopment - expected to include 685 residential units, 600,000 square feet of retail space, 120,000 square feet of office space and a 200-room hotel - will not create the back-ups some expect because it will feature six entrances on multiple roads and traffic will be dispersed throughout the day.

He said Greenberg is also considering road improvements, including widening streets, adding turn lanes and installing traffic signals.

"The roads in the area have to work for everybody [for them] to work for us," Gibbons said. He added that Greenberg is incorporating suggestions from the plan that Fischer's group drafted.

Meanwhile, state officials said a $10.5 million project that will add several exit and entrance ramps to U.S. 50 should help. That project is expected to be finished next summer. The new ramps will run from U.S. 50 onto Jennifer Road, which will be connected to Solomons Island Road by a new street. Drivers traveling north on Solomons Island Road will be able to get onto westbound U.S. 50 without going through its intersection with West Street, which the state classifies as "failed."

"We're confident you'll see a pretty significant positive impact on that intersection," said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration.

Buck said the new ramps and connector road should steer traffic from neighborhoods and shops off the local roads surrounding Parole Plaza.

County road planners are also pinning hope on the new road configuration.

"This is just going to be a much easier way to get around than having to fight the congestion on West Street," said George Cardwell, a planning administrator for the county.

Cardwell said that drivers' fears about new traffic from Parole Plaza are understandable but that there is a bright side.

"It's going to add a lot of traffic, but it's going to add a lot of traffic at different times of the day," Cardwell said. "A mixed-use development spreads out traffic over a large period, and at a lot of those times, the roads really do have the capacity."

As for a public transportation center called for by Fischer and others, Cardwell said the county would welcome it, but he said it would need significant state and possibly federal backing. The center is not in state funding plans.

"It's the type of project where the city of Annapolis and the county and the state would probably have to band together and say this is good for a lot of reasons for a lot of people," Cardwell said.

Despite concerns about transportation, residents seem pleased with Greenberg's plans for the space. They watched the old mall deteriorate from a trend-setting shopping mecca in the 1960s to an outdated eyesore in the 1980s. Their hopes rose and fell as several proposed redevelopment scenarios crumbled at the last minute. Coming after such disappointments, Greenberg's plan for a center that would attract shoppers and be a self-contained community has been widely praised.

"It does look like they're trying to do something revolutionary, and for that they should be applauded," said Anne Pearson, an Edgewater resident who represents several activist groups, including the Alliance for Sustainable Communities.

Added Fischer: "I'm actually fairly encouraged by what they're doing."

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