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Building near popular Howard trail stirs residents, sparks safety concerns

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

A self-storage business being built near a popular Columbia hiker-biker path has caused an uproar over concerns that the entrance to the facility will impede access to the trail.

The Poverni Sheikh Group, a Baltimore-based developer, has received county approvals for a four-story, 118,00-square-foot self-storage facility on a 3-acre lot in Kings Contrivance Village on Old Guilford Road.

Some residents say the entrance to the facility will impede a public road that for years has been used as a walking and biking path as part of the Patuxent Branch Trail, a 4.6 mile recreation trail that winds through Columbia to Savage along the Patuxent River.

Old Guilford Road, off Guilford Road, will act as a through-road to reach the storage facility, creating the potential for pedestrians and bicyclists to have to dodge vehicles.

Neighbors who frequent the path, including Columbia Association board member Shari Zaret, worry that traffic poses a danger to trail users.

“There’s just an amazing number of people who have been using that trail for years and years. And they had always assumed that that part of Old Guilford Road was a part of the community,” Zaret said. “Now the concern of the community is that we want to make sure that the safety of the people that utilize that trail is paramount. We’ve got families, toddlers on tricycles and that’s not a great mix in that tight spot.”

An online petition calling for the developer to move the entrance from its planned space on Old Guilford Road around the corner to Guilford Road, to land owned by Columbia Association, has received 2,266 signatures.

Eugene Poverni, a principal developer for Poverni Sheikh, said that shifting the entrance to Guilford Road is not “technically feasible.”

The development team spent a month “aggressively” studying the possibility of relocating the entrance and met with the Columbia Association, according to Poverni, but determined that due to traffic, stormwater management and grading issues, such a move was not an option.

“If there was a relatively straightforward way to flip the entrance, we would have,” he said. “We would have rather come off of Guilford Road, but after doing a good bit of engineering work it was determined to be infeasible.”

Poverni said that his team was not aware of the road’s use as part of the trail when they began design for the project, but when residents brought forward their concerns in March, the developer worked to address them.

As part of construction, Poverni said the development team will expand the roadway to allow traffic and expects to build a 10-foot wide dedicated pedestrian pathway adjacent to the road.

Because the property is in an industrial zoning district, developers were not required by the county to hold a public meeting or ask for public input before embarking on the project, according to Val Lazdins, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

County officials, including County Executive Allan Kittleman, Administrator for the Office of Transportation Clive Graham and officials from the Department of Recreation and Parks held a meeting with residents in late March to discuss concerns.

The county has since announced plans to construct a dedicated pedestrian and bike pathway that will replace the use of the roadway for foot traffic as part of the Patuxent Branch Trail, according to Lazdins.

“It was a really good meeting, the county heard the issues raised by the citizens and like in any process like this as a result of that, the county huddled and together with the Department of Planning and Zoning, Transportation and Recreation and Parks we came to a conclusion that this type of a multi-use trail would be beneficial, with a green buffer in between rather than trying to keep it really close to the stream edge,” Lazdins said.

The 10-foot-wide pathway would run between the Old Guilford Road section of the trail and Patuxent River and would include a minimum 5-foot grass buffer between the path and roadway, Lazdins said. Construction of the path will cost about $200,000. The developer may work with the county on this solution, but is awaiting further guidance, Poverni said, to learn how the two walkway plans could work cohesively.

Some trail users however aren’t convinced the pathway is the best solution. Wayne Davis, who lives in Kings Contrivance, said the situation is an example of a larger problem in the county, including a lack of respect for open space and resident concerns.

“It’s emblematic of the issues of development that do not receive any public notice whatsoever,” Davis said. “They knew this was meaningful. . .we all hoped the county would buy [the lot]. We were given no notice. And once we started asking, we are being treated as though it’s none of the community’s business.”

The process, Lazdins said, was as transparent as required by the county code, including posting information about the site on the county’s website. The department has been reviewing its zoning regulations, and Lazdins said adjusting the code to allow greater transparency would be considered.

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