State grants park funds

Board delayed allocation after neighbors' protests

Lighted fields were at issue

Ehrlich advises creation of citizens group for site

Western Howard

October 07, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With no real alternative, Maryland's Board of Public Works approved a $534,114 payment yesterday for Howard County's Western Regional Park, ensuring that roads, parking lots and the first five playing fields will go forward as scheduled.

Two weeks ago, the board delayed voting on the money after park opponents protested the lighted fields and the size and scope of the park, even though the state had spent more than $4 million on the project.

In Annapolis yesterday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. recommended -- and Howard County Executive James N. Robey agreed -- that the county form a citizens committee to monitor the park's development and include Glenwood residents in its operations when the park opens next fall. The park's features, he and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said, are a local issue.

"There's no process for us to do anything here except say on the record that a friends [of the park] committee is a good concept," Ehrlich said before the board voted in the state treasury building.

"I have no problem working with any community group," said Robey, who called the project "a great park."

County Recreation and Parks Director Gary J. Arthur agreed to meet with residents.

"We always want to work with the community," he said, adding that a 12-member citizens committee was created by western county Councilman Allan H. Kittleman several years ago to help plan the park.

Neighbors of the 161-acre park, near the Glenwood library off Route 97, took their fight against lighted fields to the board Sept. 22. They were aided by Del. Warren E. Miller, a western county Republican, and lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano.

But after yesterday's meeting, Joan Becker, a leader of the park's opponents, said her group realized that it could not stop the park or the lights. Still, the group wants to have some say on the park's development and use.

"That's what this was all about. I'm thanking you for getting us to this level and having someone listen to us," Becker told the board. Later, she said that residents want to be included in park affairs "so we feel it's truly a community park."

That seemed a far cry from her position two weeks ago, when Ehrlich and the two other board members, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Kopp, delayed voting on the money intended to help complete the first phase of development after a presentation by Bereano, Becker and Miller.

At that time, the trio attacked the concept of a regional park as too big and said it would attract too many people. Bereano said people in western Howard "moved to get away from Columbia. They don't want people following them from Columbia."

Miller called the park a "revenue-generating facility," and Becker said it was a "sports complex" and not a park.

Arthur then recounted how the park's design went through at least four levels of review over the past five years, from public hearings conducted by his department and board, to those of the county Planning Board, the county executive and the County Council. Plans for large picnic pavilions and an amphitheater were eliminated because of residents' complaints.

"We've made significant compromises. What else can we do besides make the whole park go away?" Robey said. "That simply is not good for Howard County."

Kittleman, a Republican, tried to get the County Council to eliminate plans for five lighted fields but failed, settling instead for three lighted fields.

But neighbors like Becker were not mollified, and hired Bereano, a lobbyist known for his influence with state politicians, to argue their case.

Miller said he feels citizens' objections were not taken seriously enough.

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