Some fail to see the Highland vision

Several business owners at the Routes 216/108 crossroads raise questions on impact of design guidelines developed by association

May 07, 2006|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

The Greater Highland Crossroads Association has a vision for the intersection of Routes 216 and 108: a common architectural style and attractive landscaping that preserves the rural character of the crossroads village.

But the majority of property owners who will be subject to the association's new design guidelines feel that a valuable idea is being derailed by the details. The document makes numerous recommendations ranging from the size and material for buildings to the pitch of the roof, the type of signage and the spacing of boards in a picket fence.

In a letter to the association, a group of crossroads business owners called the document "over-reaching, ambiguous and counterproductive both in terms of economics and fostering creative/innovated design opportunities."

"To a layperson it sounds wonderful," said George Boarman, whose family grocery has been at the crossroads for 50 years. "That person doesn't understand what the cost is, the impact it has on commercial owners."

Boarman is joined in his concerns by Dr. John Cunningham, who owns the Highland Veterinary Hospital, James Glynn, who owns a parcel with three buildings at the southeast corner of the crossroads, Mark Brew, who owns a plumbing business, and Mildred Gallis, who owns a piece of commercial property that has not been developed.

"It has [a] lot of good suggestions in parts, but it gets down to grains of sand on a beach," Cunningham said.

He and other opponents said they worry that when they try to make changes to their properties, they will have to argue with the association over every detail, or use the guidelines in lieu of more affordable, convenient or personally desirable options to keep the project moving forward.

Boarman said the properties at the crossroads are relatively small and have no public water or sewer. Certain configurations for wells and septic systems are required, and that does not leave much leeway for the rest of the space.

Dan O'Leary, president of the Greater Highland Crossroads Association, said his group has stated clearly that the guidelines are voluntary and intended to let property owners know what kind of plans will gain community support.

The final version of the document says: "These guidelines are not meant to be rigid proscriptions. Where other requirements and physical characteristics present practical difficulties, design requirements and common sense shall prevail."

Glynn said it is "very, very ambiguous what that means. If there is a disagreement, who is going to play God?"

O'Leary said the guidelines were developed over several years of meetings, building on information put together by the county Department of Planning and Zoning in 1993. They were fine-tuned through extensive meetings between the community and the builders of the new Highland Crossing retail and office complex being built on the northeast corner.

While opponents have said the document does not reflect the feelings of the entire community, O'Leary said a draft of the document was sent to all 100-plus members of the association before an open meeting in January. After discussions and revisions, he said, the document was approved by 17 families present and voting.

"It is kind of an expression of a vision by, I think, a representative group of the community as to what they would like to see," O'Leary said. "If [a recommendation] doesn't work, then it doesn't work. We think it's useful for them in the end to have that view of the vision of the community."

He added: "I don't find anything in there that would be difficult for any developer to comply with. To us, they are all common sense, they are mindful of the neighbors and community."

Opponents also expressed concern that the Department of Planning and Zoning has agreed to give the guidelines to people who request information about the Highland area for possible development projects. They say that implies that the department is endorsing the guidelines.

Boarman said potential developers who receive the guidelines could be discouraged from considering projects in the area if they expect added hurdles and expense.

In a letter to Boarman, Cunningham and Glynn, Planning Director Marsha McLaughlin wrote that her department's plans to offer complimentary copies to anyone inquiring about the area "does not constitute any agreement to enforce these guidelines but is intended to inform property owners of the design issues of concern to the community."

Despite the disagreements, property owners say, they are committed to helping Highland flourish, and they appreciate much of the work of the Greater Highland Crossroads Association.

"We support the association," Glynn said. "We have a problem with the guidelines."

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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