The county should hold off on providing land-acquisition funding for a proposed $4.3 million road project in Clarksville until a traffic study determines if the project is needed and how it would work, the Planning Board decided Thursday, Aug. 4.
The advisory panel's recommendation came after about 150 residents packed the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building Aug. 4 in opposition to the project, which they believe will unnecessarily take land from business owners.
The project "will study, acquire necessary rights-of-way, and construct a new road to connect Auto Drive, Great Star Drive and Maryland Route 108," according to a county budget document.
The justification for the project is that it "will improve access and circulation in this location" and "provide an access easement to the Gateway School site," the document states.
The Gateway School has been demolished to make way for a mixed-use development project. The property is next to Kendall Hardware on Route 108 and across from the River Hill Village Center.
The county selected GreenStone Ventures to develop the property in January 2010, but terminated the agreement last month because of differences with the Kendalls over access to the site. Kendall's property and the site are separated by a driveway, at the intersection of Route 108 and Great Star Drive, that runs to the back of the hardware store.
"GreenStone refused to close on that contract without having access to that light where Kendall's is," the Kendalls' attorney, William Erskine, said. "The contract falls through, and lo and behold for the first time, we hear about this important project."
GreenStone wanted to extend Great Star Drive, the road that leads into the River Hill Village Center, through the hardware store's driveway to create access to the Gateway site, but they didn't like the price Kendall was charging for the easement they needed.
The road the county is proposing, according to a schematic road location mapped in the budget document, would create the extension of Great Star Drive and then wrap it through the back of the Kendall property and the Pizza Hut property to connect with Auto Drive between the soon-to-be closed post office and a car dealership.
With the schematic drawn that way, Erskine argued, it places Kendall's land under threat of condemnation.
"We can't take a road right through here," he added. "It will devastate this business."
Land funding questioned
The total project is estimated to cost $4.3 million and take four years to complete. The county is asking the County Council to approve the addition of $1 million to the Fiscal Year 2012 capital budget it passed in May — $400,000 for an engineering study and $600,000 for land acquisition.
The Planning Board, which advises the council on capital projects, designated the project as a moderate priority and suggested the $600,000 allocated to land acquisition be added instead to the funds for the engineering study. With the extra planning funds, the county can provide a more comprehensive study of the traffic problems in Clarksville, which residents suggested would be more appropriate.
Mark DeLuca, deputy director of the county's Department of Public Works, said the county believes a collector road is needed to reduce traffic congestion and connect the driveways that lead into the various commercial strips off Route 108.
"We can't do anything without the creation of the capital project to look at this more in depth," he said.
Planning Board member Paul Yelder said he understood the need to fund a study, but not land acquisition.
"The land acquisition kind of threw me off a little," he said. "It seems to me you've got the conclusion in place already. … From a public policy standpoint, it really compromises the credibility of the administration."
Department of Planning and Zoning Director Marsha McLaughlin said the idea for the project has existed for at least a decade, but the project has been pushed aside because of other priorities.
"If we wait much longer, there isn't going to be much option," she said.
'Land grab' denounced
Several times throughout the session, as people concluded their testimony, the large crowd broke out into applause. The loudest applause came after Steve Kendall testified.
"Our ability for us to do business in the county for the next 60 years is of grave concern to me," he said.
Because the schematic shows the road passing by the back of his hardware store, Kendall said he has access and security concerns.
"The heavy traffic that we see on the back of the building every day, I can't see it working," he said.
S&W Management, the company that owns the land next to Kendall Hardware where the Pizza Hut sits, is also worried about the county's plan intruding on part of its property. Behind the Pizza Hut building is green space where the company is planning to construct an office building.
"If you look at the schematic (the road) goes right through that green area," S&W Management's attorney James Mayer said. "That pretty much takes out our building."
Clarksville resident Bob Chalmers said Kendall Hardware, the Pizza Hut and the post office, which is being closed because the landowners are also worried about the road affecting their property, "are critical to the community, and that has everything to do with why people want to live in this area."
Clarksville resident Mary Lou Koudelka Boris called the project a "massive misuse of county time, money and reputation."
In destroying the Gateway School, the county also destroyed the access to that site, she said.
"Everyone is ignoring the elephant in the room," Boris said. "You said you have the opportunity to purchase now. You don't. You have the opportunity to land grab."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun