Those in highway's way decry ICC route decision

July 19, 2005|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

DERWOOD - When Debbie Downs learned the state wanted to take her home to build a highway, the news didn't come from a newspaper or TV.

It came from Sherry Antonetti's driveway across the street, where the 7-months-pregnant mother of six got down on hands and knees to scrawl in chalk: "Thanks Gov, There Goes The Neighborhood."

Antonetti and Downs are two of the Montgomery County residents most affected by the Ehrlich administration's decision last week on its favored route for the long-debated Inter-County Connector linking Interstate 95 with Interstate 270.

If the state's plans win federal approval and can weather an expected court challenge, Downs will have to move from her comfortable middle-class home on Olde Mill Run in the upscale 1970s-era subdivision of Winters Run so the state can demolish it.

Antonetti, 39, has been told she will not have to move, but her new next-door "neighbor" would be a six-lane, $2.4 billion toll road.

"We're the closest home to the route that's not being taken," she said, adding that she cried when she heard about Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s announcement of a route July 11.

Antonetti said she would rather the state buy her home than leave her there with what she fears will be increased traffic and noise. "It would make it very unsafe and make it impossible to sell," she said as her toddlers and some of their friends played on the driveway.

At the governor's news conference, the big news was that the state had selected the southern of two main alternative routes - known as the "master plan" alignment.

Not preferred by EPA

It was a decision applauded by business interests and local politicians even though it flew in the face of the Environmental Protection Agency's objections to a route that it views as more destructive of fragile wetlands and streams than the northern alternative.

Overall, the route that the administration chose would spare more houses than the northern alternative. But another, less-noticed decision concerning how the chosen route would cross Rock Creek Regional Park could displace 18 homes in the Winters Run and Cashell Estates subdivisions.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan explained that state officials had "acquiesced" to the concerns of federal regulators that a more direct route would destroy sensitive animal and plant habitat near the scenic confluence of Mill Creek and Rock Creek.

State highway officials said it's a decision they made reluctantly and promised to do all they can to help those in the path of the highway relocate.

"We recognize that the property owners' rights need to be protected through the process," said Doug Simmons, deputy state highway administrator.

The families who would be forced to move are a mix of longtime residents, some of whom said they moved there long before there was talk of an ICC, and more recent arrivals who gambled that the state would bend over backward to avoid demolishing upscale homes and despoiling quiet neighborhoods.

Eminent domain

The State Highway Administration would acquire the homes through its power of eminent domain, which permits it to take property for public purposes so long as it provides just compensation. If the state can't reach a negotiated settlement, it can condemn the property and let a court or local review board determine the price.

Antonetti said her family moved to Winters Run in 1999, soon after Gov. Parris N. Glendening declared the ICC dead. She said she and her husband were thrilled to get a home on a half-acre lot for $202,000.

But after Ehrlich was elected in 2002 on a promise to build the ICC, he put the highway on a fast track leading to last week's announcement.

"You get labeled as an idiot because you bought the house," Antonneti said.

Across Olde Mill Run, Downs feels lucky by comparison. She said she knew there was a possibility that the state would take her home when the family moved there four years ago. And she'd prefer to take the state's money and move than live next to a highway.

"I'd rather be in my situation than hers," she said with a nod at Sherry Antonetti's home.

Slow process

Downs, 42, says she takes comfort in the hope that it might take years to complete the process of arriving at a price and relocating her family - with three children ages 13 to 16.

"If we can get all of our kids through Magruder [High School], we'll be fine," she said.

Other longtime residents are less philosophical about the state's designs on their homes.

Floyd Lashmit, 79, has lived on 2 1/2 bucolic acres on Overhill Road in Cashell Estates since 1956, gradually expanding his rambling home as he and his wife raised two sons who now help him keep up the property.

"I'd just as soon finish my time right out here where I am," the semiretired accountant said. "This is a pleasant doggone place to be."

Lashmit said there was no talk of running the ICC through his neighborhood until the past couple of years. But he wasn't surprised by the decision.

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