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Development approved in Ellicott City Neighbors want land added to state park


Last summer, Jeff and Shelley Wigant moved to College Avenue, attracted by the narrow, scenic road that winds through woods and goes by a horse farm.

Yesterday, the Wigants were among about two dozen Ellicott City residents who came before the Howard County Planning Board to protest the development of a 71-acre property off College Avenue that they believe will destroy the area's charm.

But after two hours of testimony, the four board members at the meeting voted unanimously to approve the Autumn River development plans, which call for 82 single-family homes and 17 townhouses.

"I wanted to really hate this plan," said board member Joan Lancos. " I'm looking for ways to hate this thing. I just really think it should be parkland. But in my opinion, it meets all the criteria."

State officials have expressed an interest in buying the land to add to the adjacent Patapsco Valley State Park, and many residents asked the board to delay a decision to give them and state officials time to get organized.

But Paul Johnson, the attorney for the county planning and zoning office, said that the board could not delay without permission from the developer, Donald L. Reuwer, president of Land Design & Development Inc. in Columbia.

JTC Sally Bright, an Ellicott City activist who opposes the development, said she was disappointed in the board's decision not to give citizens and park officials more time to try to buy the land.

"They could have delayed it," she said. "Why not? What's the rush?"

Reuwer said he would have no objection to selling the land to the state, but he said park officials had not approached Dr. Bruce Taylor, the owner of the property, to make an offer.

"We are open for any dialogue with the state park," he said. "We will continue to work with the park, and I hope it works out for everyone." He said that under current plans, more than half the acreage would be preserved.

"With this plan, 45 acres goes to the county for nothing," he said.

The Autumn River parcel is part of the largest swath of undeveloped land -- about 400 acres -- left in Ellicott City. All of it is owned by Taylor, who is medical director and chief executive officer of Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City. Taylor has developed some of the land and has plans to develop the rest, said Joseph W. Rutter, Jr., director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

Diane Teichberg of Beechwood Road said this development, along with the others, would create traffic nightmares along College Avenue.

"If we get, let's say, 600 houses and we get three cars a house, that's at least 1,800 cars coming down that road," she said. "It's going to be difficult to make that road, no matter how much you work on it, a safe road."

Russell Strough, a College Avenue resident, said proposed turn lanes would ruin "the narrow two-lane country scenic setting of College Avenue."

Other critics said that the 17 townhouses would not fit into the existing community, which is mostly single-family homes on large lots.

"I think that townhouses are inappropriate for the area," said Leonard Parkent of College Avenue. Sharon McCormick, another College Avenue resident, agreed: "I think the nature of the property development really goes against the character of the existing road," she said.

But Reuwer defended the plan, saying that the proposed townhouses would have less environmental impact than single-family homes.

"Unfortunately, if you are going to protect the environment, you need to cluster," he said.

Despite the board's vote to approve Reuwer's plan, Bright said she still has hope the state might buy the land.

Pub Date: 12/18/98

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