Design team, Clarksville community consider Route 108 guidelines

With new development projects in the pipeline, the stretch of Clarksville Pike near the River Hill Village Center and Route 32 overpass is set to see some substantial change in the near future.

Now, Howard County has hired a consulting firm to help the Clarksville community create a set of design guidelines for the Route 108 corridor.

“The road, and the design along the road, plays a very important role in the way the community functions,” Steve Lafferty, special projects director for the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning, said of the impetus for the project, which hatched from conversations late last year between the department and the county executive’s office. “Transportation issues are always intertwined with development itself.”

Wednesday night, Cecily Bedwell, a senior associate for Design Collective, the firm hired by the county, presented Clarksville residents with initial concepts for a portion of the pike stretching from Guilford Road to Trotter Road.  

The designs include plans to improve the corridor’s accessibility to pedestrians and bicyclists with new sidewalks, crosswalks and the possibility of buffered bike paths.

Design Collective also proposed several options – some traditional and others more contemporary – for street fixtures such as lamps, benches, bike racks and waste bins. Conceptual plans show trees and planters spaced along the side of the street.  

The firm’s work builds on an initial community meeting, held Feb. 12, where designers introduced the project and community members offered their wish lists for improvements along Route 108.

Bedwell said Design Collective goals included defining a clear pedestrian zone on the side of the road, providing better access across Route 108, creating communal spaces and preserving the county’s rural heritage at the confluence of the River Hill suburbs and historic farmland.

“We certainly want to celebrate those views along the corridor,” she said.  

Bedwell added that the final plan could serve as a guide for creating a cohesive look for the corridor as new development changes its landscape. Long-term conceptual plans show retail frontage closer to the street than current buildings, which are separated from the pike by parking lots. 

Upcoming projects include Clarksville Commons, a retail development on the east side of the old Gateway School site, and a proposed 150-home residential development on the Hoddinott property, a triangular lot between Clarksville Pike and Guilford Road. 

“We’re going to be writing criteria that includes proper detailing” with which future developments would be encouraged to conform, Bedwell said. “We want to establish the vision of what this could transform into.”

Design Collective also showed the community several logo concepts, such as a bucolic cupola, sky with birds and fence stretching along the horizon, a series of contemporary chevrons echoing the “C” and “P” in Clarksville Pike or a purple clover flower, which Bedwell said could eventually be used on street-lamp banners or as crosswalk designs.

However, she stressed that the logo designs were purely to get the community thinking about creating a stronger sense of identity, and would not be adopted in the near future.  

Mary Kay Sigaty, a Democratic council member who represents part of Clarksville in District 4, called the design project “exciting” and said it’s been a long time coming.

“It’s been years, and it’s become even more important” with new development and growing interest in walkable, bikeable communities, she said.

Sigaty said the designs reminded her of a small-town American streetscape. She said the look fit the character of Clarksville, which “sits at the middle of suburban and rural” land.

Michael Cornell, who is the River Hill representative on the Columbia Association board, said increased accessibility would encourage shoppers to stay awhile.

“Everything’s here,” he said. With more sidewalk connections, “you’re more likely to patronize everywhere else.”

Clarksville residents at the meeting used green stickers to vote on concepts they liked best. More traditional looks, such as bronze and titanium benches and street lamps, were the popular choice. 

Andy Sun put one of his stickers next to a wood-palette design, which he said he thought was a more traditional look. He said he liked the idea of developing an identity for the pike.

“We have to put into our mind what we are trying to establish,” he said.

But he also said he was worried that the project would not come about: “The last thing you want to see is everything come to a halt.”

Steve Klein, who owns the River Hill Garden Center near Sheppard Lane, said he had concerns about who would pay for the project.

“I think the concept is wonderful and I hope it all comes to fruition,” he said, “but who is going to pay for maintenance?”

Anything in the public right-of-way could be a county capital project, said Lafferty, although the fiscal year 2015 budget did not include funds for Clarksville Pike pedestrian improvements, so work is unlikely to start until the next budget cycle.

He said the department is hoping to see a set of guidelines by this fall.

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