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Developer backs out of residential project in Elkridge, leaving 'a road to nowhere'

A developer is backing out on plans for 20 single-family houses in Elkridge, leaving local lawmakers with the thorny question of whether or not to undo legislation that created a public road to allow the development to move forward.

Sang Oh, a land use attorney representing Meadowlark LLC, the developer which backed out of the plan because of market constraints, wants the council to hit rewind "as if the development never had been proposed."

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But undoing the past may not be easy. Some residents who live near Forest Avenue, part of which does not yet exist, want the developer or the county to build the road.

The council faces a "highly unusual situation" when they vote on the request to close Forest Avenue on May 1, said Jim Irvin, the director of the county's Department of Public Works.

The street is technically a paper street, which is a road or alley that exists only on paper on a recorded plan but never built on the ground. Howard County has several paper streets that have posed challenges. In one case, a dispute between property owners prompted one owner to put a fence down the center of the paper road, according to Val Lazdins, director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning.

One of Howard County's historic families stumbled upon a forgotten family cemetery threatened with removal by development.

Vincent Serio said he waited between 8 to 10 years for Meadowlark to build the project so he could have a road to support his plans to develop six lots on Forest Avenue. He said he also provided Meadowlark with an easement on his property to make way for the development.

"They're virtually making my lots worthless," Serio said.

Oh said the developer would revert Serio's easement.

Irrespective of the development, Rajendra Rambharos, who lives in one of two houses at the edge of Forest Avenue, said he was under the impression a proper road would service the small residential community in the area.

Rambharos said the area needs a road or storm water management to tackle ongoing drainage issues, which often transform his yard into a "swimming pool" and make it hard for emergency personnel to make simple turns.

In 2006, the council passed an agreement that required Meadowlark to dedicate a right-of-way on Forest Avenue to the county, a step necessary for the county to approve the subdivision. Although the council included an item in the bill that set an expiration date for the agreement in 2008, local lawmakers passed another resolution after 2008 without any expiration date on the agreement.

More than 15 years after the county charted ideas to revitalize Route 1, the 11-mile strip in Howard County continues to fall into lingering decay.

If the council doesn't approve closing the road, the county might be forced to build a road for lots that are not going to be built in an area where steep slopes and rugged land make it harder for any development to move forward, Irvin said.

"The question is, if the council does not agree to rescind the resolution, then we'd be forced to have to go back and take the bonds and build the road for lots that aren't going to be built away," Irvin said.

The department suggested the developer work with neighbors to ensure a resolution is reached, including the possibility of local residents fronting funds to help pay for improvements.

As of Tuesday, no such compromise had surfaced.



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