Suit won't stop Harford bridge

Aberdeen home owner appeals to historic trust

July 11, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Construction of a $1.2 million bridge across Cranberry Run in Aberdeen will continue after legal efforts to halt the project failed yesterday when a Harford County judge ruled that the local court had no jurisdiction in the case.

But Jay Wright, owner of an 18th-century Harford County home adjacent to the bridge, said he will continue to oppose widening the bridge through all legal means available.

Harford Circuit Judge Thomas E. Marshall also said yesterday that the property owner failed to show that the construction would cause harm to Griffith House, a 1745 farmhouse that has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.

Wright, owner of Griffith House, claims construction will adversely affect the building and increase traffic along Old Philadelphia Road. He will not drop the suit, he said.

"We have already started administrative efforts to halt the project with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which agrees with our position," said Bryan P. Digregory, a Chestertown attorney representing Wright. "We are moving as quickly as we can. Hopefully, this administrative approach can put the brakes on the project."

Elizabeth Merritt, attorney for the national trust, has written to the Federal Highway Administration complaining that agency officials failed to recognize the historic significance of the 12-acre property overlooking Cranberry Run and urging them to stop construction that "will damage and alter the historic property."

She wrote that additional study of the boundaries of the property is needed before any construction can continue.

"The National Trust strongly urges the Federal Highway Administration to halt construction on the project until it can fully evaluate ways to avoid or minimize the project's impact on the historic Griffith House," Merritt wrote Wednesday.

The State Highway Administration needs 0.03 acres of the land surrounding the house for a right-of-way and is using 604 square feet for a temporary construction easement. Any delay would add significantly to the project, which began two weeks ago and is expected to take about six months, state officials said.

The federal and state highway administrations are pouring money into many Harford road improvements, such as the bridge, to meet the demands of BRAC, the nationwide military base expansion that will bring about 10,000 jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground in the next few years.

Much of the traffic on Old Philadelphia Road is bound for the Army post, whose main gate is less than two miles away, or for the numerous nearby warehouses.

Wright, the third generation of his family to own Griffith House, had sought an injunction that would stop construction. Marshall ruled that "there is no evidence of any adverse effect or substantive changes from this replacement bridge."

He added that the old bridge, built in 1925, is "structurally deficient and functionally obsolete." The improvements, which include widening the bridge to two lanes with four-foot shoulders on each side, were in the best interests of the public, Marshall said.

Wright contends that a wider bridge will attract more trucks to a winding road that already handles 5,600 vehicles a day. The ensuing noise, increased traffic, particularly the heavy trucks, and speeds will "be too much for this house," he said.

His attorneys hired Cherilyn Widell, a historic preservation consultant and former California state historic preservation officer, to prepare a report on the historic value of Griffith House.

"There are laws established for this type of construction activity and those laws don't only apply to the grand architectural gems in this country," Widell said. "Griffith House has wonderful architectural value. This is a house that someone in the Continental Army would have lived in."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.