Howard projects create concern

Residents say homes would crowd N. Laurel road, schools

  • "I'm an eternal optimist," says Emily Hearn, who hopes to stay at Wincopia, though she lost the farm that had been in her family for nearly 200 years to her lender after a court battle.
"I'm an eternal optimist," says Emily Hearn,… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
April 04, 2010|By Larry Carson |

Plans to build 220 homes at Wincopia Farms on Gorman Road in North Laurel are moving forward, even though Ruth and Emily Hearn still live on the foreclosed property that their family owned for generations.

Together with a proposal to build 143 townhouses at nearby Westover Glen along the winding, two-lane road, which has been designated "scenic" by Howard County, the projects are raising concerns among residents who fear increased traffic and school crowding. The two developments are close to the growing Emerson community in a once lightly populated area marked by large estates, farms and country roads.

Wincopia owners Gourley and Gourley LLC of McLean, Va., seek approval for a plan to build 170 single-family detached homes and 50 townhouses on the 124-acre property. Engineer Carl Gutshick will present the plan at a public meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Savage Library.

Gourley has operated as a private bank of sorts, collecting money as "memberships" from investors and offering high-interest, high-risk loans backed by real estate, though the firm is slowly liquidating under a 2008 consent order from Virginia securities officials.

"This is a very clean, straight, down-the-middle proposal," Gutshick said. "There's no rezoning needed, conditional use needed, waivers or contentious hearings." He said construction at Wincopia could begin in about two years.

Once the plan gets about 85 percent through the approval process, the Gourley firm, headed by D. Trent Gourley, intends to sell the property, Gutshick said. The land would remain half open space, with trees around the perimeter of the property and the townhouses in the center, surrounded by detached homes on quarter-acre or smaller lots. A community center and swimming pool are shown on the plan.

There would be two entrances from Gorman Road, Gotschick said, and a study indicates that nearby intersections could handle the added traffic.

The property is situated between Gorman Road and Interstate 95 on the east, with the Middle Patuxent River on the northern border.

Westover Glen just to the south would have 143 townhouses on 18.6 acres. The county Zoning Board is considering whether to allow the project to be changed from senior to family housing, so construction could be delayed.

Area residents, along with County Councilwoman Jennifer Terrasa, are worried about safety and congestion on Gorman Road.

"The traffic on that road is bad," Terrasa said.

She has held meetings with county public works officials to seek solutions, and traffic engineers have carved grooves into the road surface near sharp curves to improve safety.

But a 37-year-old Laurel man died in December when his car missed a curve at night and hit a tree. And county police have recorded 32 accidents in the 10000 block of Gorman Road since Jan. 1, 2007.

"There's already way too much traffic on the road. There's an accident every week," said Koury Stephens, 32, a pregnant mother of two who lives just around a sharp curve from Wincopin. "Everybody goes faster than 35 miles an hour."

Michelle Noorani, president of the homeowners association at Bowling Brook Farms, which has 785 homes, said the combination of projects, with Emerson still growing, are just too much.

"Clearly, the infrastructure is not set up to have that many homes go in that area. It's just overbuilt," she said.

The county's growth controls could slow the projects. School planners expect Gorman Crossing Elementary to be crowded in a few years, and crowding at Murray Hill Middle School next door will likely close that district to development beginning this summer.

Under the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, known as APFO, development can be delayed up to four years if schools are too crowded. The county also limits development via an annual allocation system, but county planners said there are 295 housing allocations available in the southeastern area.

Meanwhile, Gourley is moving to remove Ruth Hearn and her daughter Emily from the land their family says it has farmed for nearly two centuries. Circuit Judge Lenore Gelfman granted an order of possession for the property March 25, though the firm's attorney, Demetrius Voudouris, said he is not moving for immediate eviction and hopes to reach an agreement with the Hearns to leave.

The Gourley firm lent the Hearns money in 2002, and bought the farm for $12.5 million at a foreclosure auction in February 2008. The last Hearn legal appeals were exhausted in March, according to court records.

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