Sign stirs discord in west county

The Baltimore Sun

What started as part of a beautification project in Laurel 10 years ago has turned into an ugly disagreement.

A $20,000 10-foot by 6-foot sign installed on eastbound Route 198 last month to welcome motorists to Anne Arundel County and Maryland City has roiled some residents and ignited tension between community association leaders.

"I'm outraged by this," said Jeanne Mignon of Russett, a community established in Maryland City about 16 years ago. "The community has changed. The area has changed, and Maryland City ceased being the only subdivision a long time ago."

Community leaders and residents on both sides of the issue agree the sign should acknowledge the county, but the consensus ends there.

Former members of the Laurel Race Course Impact Fund Advisory Committee said the sign, as planned 10 years ago, was never supposed to name a community. The panel, which includes representatives from the county, Laurel Park and members of the Pines of Laurel, Laurel Pines, Maryland City, Laurel Highlands, Russett and Bacontown communities, decides how to use its portion of money that the horseracing track pays to the state for each race.

The money is distributed by the county and must be spent in communities within two miles of the track. It has paid for things such as firetrucks, extended library hours and beautification projects.

In 2003, Mignon and her committee members agreed the sign would say "Welcome to Anne Arundel County."

"This addition of 'Welcome to Maryland City' was a slip around the bend," she said, adding that current committee members didn't bother to ask residents how they felt about the sign. "Most people will tell you this isn't Maryland City."

B.J. Taylor, president of the Russett Community Association and a current member of the impact fee panel, said the sign was to read "Welcome to Maryland City." He said the committee does not see what the fuss is about.

Residents should be more concerned with crime and the military base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC that is expected to add thousands of new residents and jobs around Fort Meade in West County, Taylor said.

"I would love for all of this attention to be focused on issues for local schools," he said. "Schools are a lot more important and crime is a lot more important than whose name is on the sign."

Another member of the Russett Community Association said it makes sense to keep Maryland City's name on the sign.

"Russett is a homeowners association within Anne Arundel County," said Tim Reyburn, treasurer and a former president of the Russett association. "It's not a municipality. Russett is in the Maryland City land area. Russett is a great place, but I accept the fact that we live in a larger area. I think Maryland City is great."

Opponents of the sign said they want the Maryland City reference removed. A sign with just the county name would be enough to acknowledge the area, they say.

"We all would be served if the sign said 'Welcome to Anne Arundel County," said David Leight, a former member of the racetrack fee committee.

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