Payment delayed for park project

Lobbyist and delegate gain a two-week postponement

State to look at opposition, concept

$534,114 installment is to go toward fields, roads, parking

Western county

September 23, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After a decade of planning and with construction well under way, an influential Annapolis lobbyist and a Howard County delegate temporarily derailed state funding of the $14 million Western Regional Park yesterday.

Lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, Del. Warren E. Miller, a western county Republican, and Joan M. Becker, a park neighbor, persuaded the state Board of Public Works in Annapolis to delay approval of a $534,114 installment on the project needed to build five athletic fields, roadways and parking lots at the Glenwood park.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp postponed the vote for two weeks while their staffs investigate opposition to three lighted athletic fields and the overall size and scope of the park.

Ehrlich noted that plans for the park are a local issue, not one for the state.

"Our frustration is the board does not like being placed in this position," he said.

The action appears to reopen debate over the project, despite five years of public meetings, hearings and votes by Howard County government groups, including the Department of Recreation and Parks, Planning Board, the county executive and the County Council. The county has spent $4.3 million in state money on the project.

"I don't understand what will be accomplished in that time," said Gary J. Arthur, county director of recreation and parks. "To me it's a local issue, as the governor said."

Arthur told the board that the park's plan has not changed in five years, although the number of lighted fields - which will be paid for by Howard County - was reduced from five to three in the spring in a County Council compromise.

The county had earlier removed plans for large picnic pavilions, a music amphitheater and a lake on the 161-acre former farm at Carrs Mill Road and Route 97 because of residents' objections.

Supporter of park

Jack Milani of Glenwood, a lacrosse league treasurer, told the board that the park is needed to support the growing number of youngsters in organized sports.

"Last night, we had six [football] teams on one field," Milani said. "We live there, too."

Becker attacked the concept of the park, saying that her three children play sports and have enough fields in other places to use.

"What began in 1994 as a simple park has now turned into a sports complex," she said.

Miller said he wasn't in office when the county approved the plans, but added that the county has run roughshod over local objections to the park in favor of the government's desire to have "a revenue-generating facility in western Howard County. There's a huge amount of outrage in Glenwood."

Attacking concept

Bereano also attacked the concept of the park, saying that people in western Howard County "moved to get away from Columbia. They don't want people following them from Columbia," though he said he personally likes the planned town. The park is "going to kill the whole [western] area," he said.

Bereano, once Maryland's highest paid lobbyist, is a flamboyant Annapolis figure, where he remains influential, despite several legal and ethical infractions over the past decade.

Del. Neil F. Quinter, an eastern county Democrat and county House delegation chairman, appeared at the meeting to support the county.

Quinter said the move by Bereano and Miller is an attempt at a political end run around the county government.

County Executive James N. Robey, who did not attend the meeting, said he is committed to three lighted fields and will "absolutely" not back down.

Board majority

Miller denied any partisan politics are at work, pointing out that Schaefer and Kopp - a voting majority on the board - are Democrats.

Since the state long ago approved funding for the park, "this is sort of uncharted territory for us," Robey said.

"We have so many people who want it," he said. "I can understand [opposition to] jails and landfills. I guess I'll go to my grave never really understanding why people oppose things that benefit so many people."

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