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Western high school site gets Planning Board OK


County Planning Board members yesterday approved a site for the planned western high school between Route 108 and Trotter Road, saying neighbors' objections were not a consideration in the decision.

"It's a sad, sad thing," said Aelred "Al" Geis. Although he lives near the site, he said his opposition was not a case of "not-in-my-backyard."

"It's just a dumb place to put a school. That 'western' high school's closer to the eastern edge of Howard County than it is to the western edge," he said.

But Kay Partridge, the board's vice chairwoman, said board members had a limited scope of review and authority over the site picked by the county school board. The Planning Board had to make its decision based on the site's conformity to Columbia's master plan for development, she said.

But growth-control advocate Susan Gray testified that the site -- was inconsistent with Columbia's plan.

"You don't have the whole picture, and you don't have the full information," she said, testifying before the board.

She pointed to an "S" on the master plan designating a school site and noted that it is not directly on the planned school site.

And Gray argued that board members have the discretion to consider the adequacy of nearby roads such as Route 108,Trotter Road and Sheppard Lane, although they are not required to.

She echoed the fears of many area residents, saying Sheppard Lane likely would become a thoroughfare out of River Hill, Columbia's 10th and final village. That could put a busy intersection dangerously close to the school's access roads, she said.

Shirley Geis, newly elected president of the Trotter Road Citizens' Association, also listed traffic as one of many reasons she believed the site should have been rejected.

"It's a zoo now, and when you consider all the kids driving from western Howard County, it is not going to be any better," she said.

The school, with a capacity of 1,400 students, will be the largest in the county and is intended to serve River Hill and relieve overcrowding at Glenelg, Centennial and Atholton high schools. Construction is to begin in July and be finished by fall 1994. If necessary, the school could hold 1,600, testified William Brown, director of school planning and construction for the county school system.

"We simply have no place else to go. This is where we're going to stay, this is where we're going to build the school," Brown said. The

Rouse Co.'s Columbia development arm, Howard Research and Development, is donating all but 7.5 acres of the 64-acre site and paying to hook up sewer and water to the property.

The Trotter Road Citizens Association appealed the school board's decision to the state Board of Education, but an administrative law judge recommended in favor of the county school board.

Shirley Geis said she and her husband would be at a state board meeting next Tuesday morning, but held out little hope it would not follow the judge's recommendation.

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