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Blandair panel OKs plan for regional park

After more than 19 months of meetings, the Blandair committee has voted to accept a plan to develop the former Smith farm into a regional park in Columbia with playing fields, trails, a nature center and a children's garden.

Rather than hash out the details of traffic, lighting and other issues that residents brought up at three public hearings, the 19 members agreed unanimously at its Tuesday meeting to have the consultant address those problems while developing their recommendations into a working plan.

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"What we were charged with was to come up with a concept," said committee member Granville Wehland during the meeting. "We were not going to come up with the details."

Members were appointed to the committee by County Executive James N. Robey in 2000 and represented residents of the surrounding villages of Owen Brown and Long Reach, as well as athletic, historic preservation and conservation interests.

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They recommended a variety of features, including preservation of the mansion on the 300-acre property.

"I think we came out with a plan that is fairly representative of the community right around the property," said Gary Arthur, county parks director.

"What we were charged with was to come up with what the property could do, could bear," Arthur said.

Now, the Department of Recreation and Parks must hire a consultant to graphically represent the plan, which would then go to design and construction stages.

But budgets are tight. The state's Project Open Space program, which provides funds to build parks, was cut substantially, Arthur said.

In addition, Recreation and Parks' capital budget allotment has not been more than $4 million a year. Fully developing Blandair would cost about $14 million, he said.

Because of the concerns raised during the public hearings, however, the committee did consider two alternate configurations before voting, with a pedestrian rather than a vehicular entrance through adjacent neighborhoods.

Of the 274 people who attended the public hearings, 79 testified, Arthur said. Many of those - 31 - had traffic concerns, he said, particularly about proposed vehicular access to the park via Summer Hollow Lane.

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Residents of the Glenmont neighborhood in Long Reach village stated that drivers already use Summer Hollow as a shortcut to avoid traffic lights on Route 108 on their way to Phelps Luck Drive.

They did not want their community to bear the additional load of traffic to a regional park.

During its vote, the committee chose to provide the consultant with the plans along with other materials such as testimony from the public hearings.

The consultant will also conduct a traffic study of park entrances through residential neighborhoods such as the one suggested for Summer Hollow.

Committee members also agreed to reconvene when needed by Recreation and Parks.

The department has prepared a document responding to the concerns that were raised at the public hearings.

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It will be mailed within the next two weeks to those who attended the meetings.

For the record

In an article in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun about the Blandair committee approving plans for a regional park, the neighborhood of Glenmont was misidentified. It is an outparcel, not part of Columbia's Long Reach village. The Sun regrets the error.


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