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Residents angered by road closing; Sanner detour set at developer's request


Several dozen Clarksville residents say they're outraged by a county decision to allow a developer to close off a large part of a well-traveled road for four months beginning Tuesday -- an action critics say could cause major traffic congestion.

Residents who live on or near Sanner Road say the county should have given them more notice and held a public hearing to solicit concerns about the closing of the road, across from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, near routes 29 and 32.

"I am very concerned about what has happened," Hattie Myers, a 30-year resident, said last week at a community meeting called to discuss the road closing. "We never got any kind of notice. We were treated as if we don't live here and pay taxes."

Residents gathered at a Sanner Road resident's home told Howard County officials that they were concerned that the closing will cause major traffic congestion throughout the area. Many of the employees at the laboratory, the largest private employer in the county, use the road to get to work.

The road closing springs from an agreement that Toll Brothers Inc., developer of the 160-home project, reached last year with the county in connection with the building of the subdivision. The developer will assume half of the costs of upgrading and widening Sanner Road. County officials welcomed the improvements to the road, and the cost-sharing.

The entire road will be widened from two to four lanes. A 700-foot stretch of the 1,400-foot road will be closed during construction.

Those who live on the southern end of Sanner Road, closest to Johns Hopkins Road, will be able to enter and exit with relative ease. But non-residents, including APL employees, will be detoured to Pindell School Road and Johns Hopkins Road, which critics fear will create congestion.

Second closing likely

For several years, county officials have targeted Sanner Road for improvements because a bridge on the road has steadily deteriorated and officials say it needs to be fixed. But there are no immediate plans to do so, and once the road is widened it will likely have to be closed again for bridge work, officials say.

Residents say they're baffled as to how the county could empower a private developer to close a road for several months. Even Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said that the road closing is highly unusual.

"This is an unusual situation. It's very rare for a developer to close a county road off to residents," Rutter said. "It's the first time I've seen it happen."

Residents pleaded with county officials to negotiate with Toll Brothers in a last-minute effort to keep the road open. But William K. Wainger, senior land development manager for the company, said the road will be closed Tuesday.

"We're planning to move forward as planned," he told residents. "At this time, there really is no room to change anything."

'Should have done better job'

Because an agreement has been approved between county and developer, Rutter said, the county could not force Toll Brothers to keep the road open. He did acknowledge an error.

"We should have done a better job notifying residents," Rutter said.

"There's no debate about it. We screwed up."

Rutter's admission didn't satisfy neighbors up and down Sanner Road who wonder if their mail will be delivered and if school buses will continue to pick up their children in front of their homes and drop them off.

Some wonder how they'll be able to drive back and forth to their homes. About a dozen residents live along the part of the road to be closed. Officials say they can use the road to come and go.

Tree stumps and mud

Residents say they're also concerned about environmental problems. Within the last few weeks, they say, they've watched many of their trees get cut down and seen mud from the construction site flow into the stream that runs through the area.

"From an environmental point of view, I am worried that the laws are not being followed," said Nancy Davis, a Sanner Road resident. But county officials said the developer was in compliance and has received the environmental permits necessary to construct the subdivision.

"We have gone above and beyond the minimum environmental regulations," said Wainger, "We want a nice, attractive area so that people would want to move here."

At the southern end of Sanner Road, an Adopt-A-Road sign indicates that the road has been adopted by Toll Brothers, which means it has agreed to ensure that the road is kept clean. That upsets resident Jessie Jordan.

"It's a real slap in the face to see that our road was adopted by them," she said. "They're the ones causing the problems."

Pub Date: 2/14/99

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