Neighbors of two portions of the planned $37 million Blandair Regional Park in Columbia are mounting a revolt against last-minute changes to the southeastern corner of the 300-acre tract.
Although supportive of the park, residents who live in neighborhoods near Oakland Mills Road and Old Montgomery Road want a 2-acre skateboard park and the multipurpose building moved away from their homes and toward the center of the 100-acre southern section of the facility.
Calling their plan "Alternative G," more than 50 supporters of the idea were among the nearly 200 people who turned out for a county-sponsored public hearing at Oakland Mills High School on Thursday night.
After listening to professional consultants talk for more than an hour, the residents finally got their turn.
"While we are very excited about having a family-oriented facility within walking distance of our homes, this will very much disrupt and negatively impact our community," said Carol Weil, past president of the Hawkins Farm Community Association.
"In 2003, our residents were universally thrilled" at plans for the park, added Karen Hitcho, chairwoman of the Long Reach Village Board. But now, she said, what was thought to be "minor tweaking" of the plan has become much more than that.
The added lights at night and noise close to homes would be a problem, she and other speakers said.
"We welcome these facilities, but we need to be considerate of this densely populated area," said Bridget Mugane, a member of the 23-member citizens advisory committee that helped devise the park's master plan. "It is the only park inserted into an already developed area," she added, and thus carries extra concerns.
Other neighbors, who live in Glenmont, just north of the northern 200 acres of the former Smith farm, said they don't want a park entrance through their neighborhood because of the traffic it would generate.
But Bob Keddell, who said he has been a teacher for 36 years, wants the entire farm preserved as an environmental education center, not developed into playing fields.
"I think it's upside down," he said about the county's plans.
Meanwhile, 16-year old Matt Reels, of Dorsey's Search, has his eye on one feature of the planned park.
"I love skateboarding. We should definitely have a skateboard park, and it should be really, really big," he told the crowd.
Alex Pagnotta, who spoke for the Western Howard Warhogs football team, had another perspective. There was lots of local opposition to Western Regional Park in Glenwood, he said, but that has disappeared now that it has been built.
"The people using the park the most are the people who were opposed to it," he said.
Real estate agents taking clients to see homes often take them to the park first to impress them, Pagnotta said.
"We're 100 percent in support of the plan. What a backyard," he said about Blandair.
Only one segment of the project is under way - the $1.6 million restoration of the 1857 mansion house last occupied by Nancy Smith, the reclusive owner who died in 1997.
The park would be built in phases, starting with the first two multipurpose fields, a playground, restroom, and parking in the portion south of Route 175, unless the chorus of complaints forces changes.
Ultimately, plans call for six picnic shelters; a large open festival area in the northern portion; five multipurpose fields with three north and two south of Route 175; plus six baseball fields, including four in the north portion and two south of Route 175. Also, a multipurpose building and a skate park would go in the southern area, where some facilities would be lighted for evening use.
In addition, the park would have four horseshoe pits and six tennis courts in the southern area, and five miles of paths and trails would circle through the property.
Main access would come from Route 175. A bridge over the highway would connect the two portions of the park, with traffic circles at each end.
The schedule calls for completion of the master plan design in November and approval of a site development plan in one year, with groundbreaking in March 2010.
Planning for the park has been on a slow track since Howard County bought the land for $10.7 million in 1998.
The last round of three public hearings on the previous version of the park master plan took place exactly five years ago.
Another public meeting on the issue is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks headquarters, 7120 Oakland Mills Road, which is next to Pizza Hut corporate headquarters, just south of Broken Land Parkway in Columbia.