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County's fast-track program zooms plan past SHA warning Proposal has state worried about traffic


Baltimore County officials racing to approve plans for a large discount store in Fullerton may have run a bureaucratic stop sign put up by the State Highway Administration, warning of possible severe traffic congestion at the new site.

The county, which has been accused of taking too long to approve new developments, recently decided to speed up the approval process and is using a 20-acre site near White Marsh to test the accelerated procedure.

County agencies have been issuing approvals for the project so fast they missed a letter from the SHA. The letter, dated Aug. 19, warned that evening rush hour traffic at the only access to the site could be severe. The site is off the new Whitemarsh Boulevard (Route 43), which will link Interstate 695 with Interstate 95 between Harford and Belair roads. It is due to open next spring.

The SHA approved an earlier plan, which indicated four car dealerships would be built on the site. The new plan, for which the SHA issued its letter, calls for a 140,000-square-foot store and one dealership.

The letter was delivered to a county zoning advisory committee Aug. 20, the same day the Board of Appeals held a hearing on the project. The SHA did not know of the appeals board hearing. The board did not see the letter that day, and issued its decision Aug. 26.

William T. Hackett, board chairman, said the state's opposition came too late to be considered by the board.

In its letter, the SHA warned that under the new plan the intersection on Whitemarsh Boulevard just west of Belair Road would drop from a level "B" to a level "D" in terms of traffic congestion. The state rates intersections on a letter scale from "A" to a "F." A low rating, such as a "D," means some vehicles would have to wait through several traffic light cycles.

In reference to the new plan, state engineer John Contestabile wrote: "Earlier knowledge of this type of use may have had a bearing on our decision to allow access [to the site] from Md. 43. . . . We do not recommend approval."

The project, proposed by developer Larry Macks, received county planning board approval in July along with conceptual approval by the County Review Group. The Board of Appeals decision reaffirms the business zoning required to build a large store on the site, instead of the earlier planned complex of auto dealerships.

Normally, a developer might have to wait six months or more to get those three approvals. In this case, the approvals were made in six weeks.

Charles R. Harrison, the SHA's district engineer, said that because the entrance to Mr. Mack's land from Whitemarsh Boulevard is already built, the state plans no further action to block the project. Anyone opposed to the board's decision may appeal it to Circuit Court within 30 days.

Mr. Macks, who hopes to begin construction this fall and perhaps see a store open on the site in late spring or next summer, downplayed the state's objections. He noted that the SHA letter indicates traffic lights will be timed to favor traffic passing by the site. Vehicles entering and leaving the site will have to wait.

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