After four years of planning and debate, construction could begin next month on an 82-space parking lot in Oella that would be used primarily by shoppers in nearby historic Ellicott City.
Situated on the Baltimore County side of the Patapsco River, the parking lot is a joint venture between Baltimore and Howard counties.
"The project is moving along," said Kenneth Mills, executive director of the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, which would manage the lot. Howard County has agreed to finance the $325,000 project.
Officials estimate that it will take 90 days to complete the parking lot at Oella Avenue and Route 144.
Efforts to build the parking lot have been slowed by a lengthy permit process and objections from Oella area residents who fear that vehicle noise and glare from parking lot lights and car headlights would keep them awake at night.
"We'll have car doors slamming at night and cars honking and bright lights shining up at us," said Therese M. Chatain, who lives on Westchester Avenue near the lot and has fought the project since it was proposed in 1989.
But officials say they are working to appease Ms. Chatain and 15 other families who live alongside the lot.
Initial plans called for a free 24-hour parking lot with 30-foot-tall light towers and 12 red and sugar maple trees that would be planted to shield nearby homes from the glare of parking lot lamps and car headlights.
Now, project officials are waiting for alternative lighting plans from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and are working with neighbors to improve landscaping designs.
Ms. Chatain said she would prefer lower lights and fast-growing evergreens that would provide a year-round screen.
Howard County officials have agreed to plant cypress trees, but Ms. Chatain said early plans indicate that the trees are too young and would be planted too far apart to be of much use.
"I'd be in my grave before they provided enough effective screening," Ms. Chatain said.
Once residents' grievances are satisfied, the Baltimore County Council is expected to approve the transfer of the privately owned lot into public hands.
The acre lot is owned by Charles L. Wagandt, president of the Oella Co., and Joe Morea, owner of the Trolley Stop, formerly the Valley View Inn.
The owners say they are weary of the lengthy permit process that governs construction in environmentally sensitive areas.
"You just can't believe how tortuous the permit process is," Mr. Wagandt said. "The red tape is mind-boggling."
Among the agencies inspecting the site were the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Soil Conservation District, which both approved the plan, Mr. Mills said. The lot is near the Patapsco River in a flood plain.
Though it won't solve all their problems, Ellicott City merchants say the parking lot will help increase parking and ease congestion in the narrow streets of the historic district.
"It will help, but it won't help significantly," said Barry Gibson, president of the Ellicott City Business Association.