One hundred fewer homes in new version of Riverdale

Security Development takes over from Dale Thompson

April 08, 2011|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

A new developer is proposing a smaller, more environmentally attuned housing project on a heavily wooded hill in southwestern Columbia, replacing an earlier plan that created a furor among area residents over traffic and the impact on the Middle Patuxent River.

Simpson Mill is the new name for what was once called the Riverdale townhouse project at the northeast corner of Route 32 and Cedar Lane, just south of the river. It is much smaller, but traffic congestion and environmental issues remain concerns, community members said.

Security Development, the Ellicott City-based firm run by the Moxley family, is the new developer proposing 150 Ryland townhouses on the 29-acre site. Dale Thompson, the previous developer, wanted 260 units there.

A community information meeting on the new plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Kahler Hall in Harper's Choice. The new plans would likely be submitted to the county by early May, James R. "Rob" Moxley, a principal in the Security firm, said.

"The big picture here is that Dale had a very intense development plan. Our goal is to make this a green community," Moxley said. Thompson's plan included 112 homes for seniors squeezed onto a less than five-acre portion zoned for offices or senior housing. Moxley said no site plan for that area will be submitted, though a future use remains possible.

County planning director Marshal McLaughlin noted that Thompson's plans included rear-entrance garages with rear alleys that would have required a lot more paving. Security's plan would "allow a lot more buffer along the stream." The development site is just south of the Middle Patuxent River.

Moxley said he plans to leave 15 acres of open space, nearly double what is required by the county, and will use a much smaller area for the homes.

"It is much less intense," he said, adding that the area of grading will be much farther from the river than what Thompson planned. In addition, Security is bound by the state's new, stricter stormwater rules, which means much more of the rainwater must be captured and absorbed instead of running off into the river.

That means the new homes will have rain barrels, less paved surface, use only native plants and provide fewer extra parking spaces. "We think it's going to be well-received," Moxley said.

Thompson's plans came to a halt in 2008 during the worst of the recession. Moxley's firm bought the property for $9 million in January, according to real estate records. Moxley said he wasn't required to hold a community information meeting under current county law, but he wanted to tell people about the changes. The County Council voted Monday night to change the law making new meetings mandatory if plans for a development site have changed substantially.

The new name comes from the historic Simpsonville Mill, the ruins of which now sit beneath a bridge carrying Cedar Lane, next to Harriet Tubman Lane. Moxley said his firm will build a walking path from the new homes to the mill ruins that will run under the Cedar Lane bridge, connecting with the new county-built Robinson Nature Center due to open this year on the western side of the road. The center will be a stop on a Howard Transit route, too, giving the new residents access to a bus.

But County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty said traffic remains a question, and Joan Lancos, a Hickory Ridge activist and former county planning board member, said the key traffic problem involves the exit ramp from Route 32 westbound going north on Cedar Lane.

"There was huge hubbub with the Riverdale project because of what was proposed for the interchange," she said, adding, however, that "I think 150 [homes] makes a lot more sense" than the original plan. Motorists exiting the highway would have had to stop before entering Cedar Lane, creating fears of congestion and public safety problems. That idea was dropped, she said, but "I think everyone's biggest concern has to do with ingress and egress."

Cathy Hudson, president of the Howard County Citizens Association, said, "I certainly like that they're decreasing density and increasing open space, but traffic issues still need to be worked out with the State Highway Administration."

Moxley said the development entrance will be at an existing traffic light opposite Grace Drive, where a small driveway now exists, and his firm will widen Cedar Lane in front of the development. He expects the exit ramp from westbound Route 32 will be curved more sharply to slow traffic leaving the freeway, though State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck said no plan for the new project has been discussed.

Sigaty said "the same issue still exists" on traffic.

"People have a right to use their property," she said, but she continues to worry about the speed and volume of traffic on Cedar Lane, though she acknowledged that the county's nature center planned for the other side of the road will also add to that problem.

"That whole corridor is being looked at" as part of the county's new general plan, she said.

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