Residents pleased after N. Laurel connector road debate

April 02, 2006|BY A SUN REPORTER

The grumbling began even before the Planning Board members filed into the room.

"Government can do whatever it wants," complained one man to the woman sitting next to him. "It doesn't matter what the public wants."

That view, perhaps, is held by many. But he and the rest of the overflow audience Thursday night learned what President John F. Kennedy meant when, in a commencement address at Yale University, he said: "For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie . . . but the myth -- persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

When the evening concluded, the audience was not grumbling but applauding the board and Marsha S. McLaughlin, the director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

The civics lesson was cloaked in a debate over the county's proposal for $80,000 to study building a North Laurel connector road. While that may seem trivial to the greater populace, it was of paramount importance to the audience.

Steve Sharar, chief of the Transportation and Special Project Division, said residents have only one access to the Washington Avenue and Maryland Avenue corridor, west of North Laurel Road.

A second access, he said, would provide improved traffic flow and benefit emergency vehicles, such as fire and rescue.

The Department of Public Works has included $80,000 in the proposed capital budget for the next fiscal year to study the connector road. The cost of construction is estimated at $270,000, including land acquisition.

McLaughlin said there has been piecemeal development in the area, leaving the road network incomplete and inadequate. "The study needs to be done to see if there is something acceptable to the community," she said.

The residents of North Laurel Park, though, wanted nothing of it.

Richard Mathews said the public lacks faith and trust in their elected officials because the issue has been resurrected after homeowners successfully fought a similar proposal in 1998.

"It's not new," he said. "It's just that the developments have gotten bigger."

He said the proposed connector road is the first of three that the county would like to build in the area. "You'll taking what was supposed to be a private road and turn it into a highway. ... We've been misled."

The community, said Deborah Fitzer, is safe for children because there is no through traffic because Maryland Avenue dead-ends. "We don't want the study, and we don't want the road," she said.

Another resident, Mark Reo, said building the connector would "overwhelm" Maryland Avenue. "It wasn't built for that kind of traffic."

Several others said they bought homes in the area because developers had assured them that streets would not be expanded to permit through traffic.

"I don't want my child confined to the backyard" because of traffic, said Marilyn Lee. "We haven't asked for this, and we don't want it."

The five-member Planning Board signaled quickly that it was not inclined to support the county's proposal.

"I'm not convinced that this is a bad situation, either from an emergency or traffic standpoint," said board member H. Gregory Tornatore.

Tammy J. CitaraManis, chairwoman of the board, said, "This is not the right place for us to spend our tax dollars."

Even McLaughlin shifted positions. "If the community doesn't want it, then there are better ways for the county" to spend its funds, she said.

The board voted, 5-0, to oppose funding for the study. Its decision is a recommendation only, but, given the intensity of the opposition, it seems unlikely that the County Council will vote otherwise, especially in an election year.

But in a broader sense, perhaps, the board's vote punctured the myth that that officials never listen to the public.

The board also:

Approved a 60-day extension before the formal decision and order approving the fourth comprehensive sketch plan for Turf Valley must be filed.

Recommended inclusion of $2.9 million in the capital budget for construction of a 500,000-gallon elevated water tank and pumping station to serve part of the Fulton area, including the large planned community of Maple Lawn, Maryland.

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