Columbia residents protest homes

Development near Hickory Ridge creates concern over traffic, loss of trees

November 30, 2007|By June Arney | June Arney,Sun reporter

Village residents who live near a 264-unit housing development proposed for the edge of west Columbia are fighting the project, which they say will bring too much traffic to the area and force the cutting of many trees surrounding the site.

But the Riverdale development, a project of Dale Thompson Builders Inc. that is slated for a 30-acre site at Cedar Lane and Route 32 near the Middle Patuxent River, is so far along in the process that substantial changes are unlikely.

"It's too late in the game for them to be challenging the zoning," said Marsha McLaughlin, director of the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning. "But they have every right to raise issues about the design."

The situation is frustrating for nearby residents, who say the developer has never come to present plans to them directly.

"Frankly, I'm not sure what we can do now moving forward, now that we know the status of the project," said Gregg Schwind, chairman of the Hickory Ridge Village Board. "There is somewhat a bitter taste in my mouth. The project they were proposing at the time that they went to the county as part of the 2003 comprehensive rezoning was not this."

In 2004, a project proposed by developers Dale Thompson and Donald R. Reuwer called for 140 townhouses and a two-story office building on the site. By moving a sensitive planning boundary, the project gained immediate access to more than 400 housing allocations in Columbia.

Without the zoning adjustment, the project would have to wait years because housing allocations in the southeastern district had been taken by the Maple Lawn, Maryland and Emerson developments.

Village leaders had not opposed that rezoning, Schwind said.

Dale Thompson Builders did not return calls for comment.

In a letter sent last month to county planners, Schwind outlined the concerns of the Hickory Ridge Community Association.

"We believe that the intensity of this project, in its environmentally fragile location, is inappropriate and will negatively impact the residents of the Village of Hickory Ridge," he wrote.

Among the concerns of members of the Hickory Ridge Community Association is a traffic study that they say minimizes the impact of the new homes, and narrow streets that leave little space for firetrucks, trash collection, moving vans and regular delivery trucks.

They also worry about the lack of sidewalks, which could preclude pedestrian access to the shopping center to the north. Schwind wrote that that would mean residents would have to use cars to get anywhere.

"Our main concern is that the traffic from 264 additional units will overwhelm this location," Schwind said this week. "It's an area we think is just not suitable."

Residents feel betrayed, Schwind said.

"Particularly when they change what they're going to do, we really wish they'd come to us to talk about it, instead of what we feel like was a stealth operation," he said.

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