Board votes against road money for Clarksville development

The Howard County Planning Board has voted against funding the purchase of land to build a road that would serve a proposed mixed-use development in Clarksville, a potential setback for the county-backed project, which has struggled to secure highway access.

About 150 people, including landowners in the area surrounding the former Gateway School site, showed up to a Thursday hearing in support of Kendall Hardware, which has been a vocal critic of a plan that county officials believe can breathe life into the stalled Clarksville Commons development on the county-owned land.

The county had asked planners to approve a $1 million plan to buy land and study how to connect the project to Route 108, but the board decided after about two hours of testimony to dedicate all of the money to a broader examination of traffic in the area. The recommendation now goes to the County Council. Area businesspeople had complained that the county was creating uncertainty — a post office in the area will close this month, a move that its landlords say is largely due to questions about the development.

Clarksville Commons was promoted as a model of new urban design by County Executive Ken Ulman when he named George and Holly Stone, the principals in developer GreenStone Ventures, to build on the 7.8-acre site. But a year and a half later, there's been no groundbreaking and the contract with that developer was terminated over disputes about the access road.

Planning board member Paul Yelder said it was presumptuous to ask for money to buy land while at the same time seeking funds for a feasibility study. "It just doesn't look right," he said.

Planning director Marsha McLaughlin said when there is opportunity to secure the land it should be acted upon. "Land development is dynamic," she said. "We don't want to lose the opportunity," she said.

The access road would run along the path of a driveway to Kendall's back storage lot, connecting to a shopping center on the other side of the Gateway site. The proposed road would run behind three business, extending Great Star Drive past the intersection with Route 108 and connecting to Auto Drive.

Mark DeLuca, the deputy director of the county's Department of Public Works, who presented the proposal to the planning board Thursday, said a new road would help "to mitigate traffic congestion on Route 108," as well as provide access to the Gateway site, originally slated for a mix of stores, offices and a hotel.

But Kendall Hardware, Pizza Hut and the owners of the post office site say the proposal could unfairly cut into their property. The owner of the hardware store believes the plan would reduce the space he uses to store large items such as propane tanks and lumber.

"It's not going to help us," owner Steve Kendall said before Thursday's meeting. "That road would cut my back storage lot in half. I have full access now. I think I am going to lose my direct access."

Ilene Veasel, who co-owns the post office building, said before the meeting that her group decided not to renew the lease due to the uncertainty of the property.

"There were a couple of factors," she said, but "number one was that we got a letter from Howard County" proposing to put "a road behind our property. There were just so many questions," she said.

Kendall, who once considered combining his four-acre parcel with the school site and making a new store part of the project, later asked the Stones or the county to buy an easement to use his driveway. The Stones said the price was too high, leaving the county to devise a solution.

Numerous people stood up at the meeting to speak out against the road that could affect the hardware store. Many said they didn't understand why the county would request money before completing a feasibility study. Some also questioned the need for another road.

"It's an access road that only serves one developer at the expense of three commercial properties," said John Schultze, president of S&W Management, which owns the Pizza Hut building. He said before Thursday's meeting that he's had a building permit since March 2010 to develop a new 6,300-square-foot commercial building behind the Pizza Hut, which he fears could be cut off if a new road is built.

"I can't see the benefit of what they are trying to create," Kendall said. "It's the road to nowhere."


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