By Derek Simmonsen
They enlisted a landscape architect to come up with a different layout for the southern half of the park, passed out renderings of their plan and even gave it a name: Alternative G.
Supporters of Alternative G showed up in force at a Sept. 11 public meeting, where county consultants explained their master plan to transform 300-acres of former farmland into a county regional park and gave residents a chance for input.
The county's proposal calls for the park would be split into a northern and southern half, with Route 175 serving as the dividing line and the main entrance to both sides. The northern half, about 200 acres, holds the original farm buildings and manor house and would include softball fields, open meadows and a nature center. The south side would include a skate park, baseball fields and a multi-purpose building.
During the meeting, residents who live on the southeast side of the park said they worried about noise from the skate park and baseball games, light shining into homes at night and busy traffic on some of the access roads. They have collected about 150 signatures in support of their alternate plan, which would put the skate park and a multi-purpose building farther away from homes and change the orientation of the ball fields.
"This is 40 acres out of 300 acres, yet it has the highest-impact activities of the entire park," said Bridget Mugane, a member of the park's 23-member citizen advisory committee and an Alternative G supporter. "This is a problem."
The park's citizen advisory panel signed off on a master plan for the park in 2003 and was reconvened earlier this year to re-evaluate that plan. A series of changes released this summer, known as "Refinement D," altered the southern half by adding the skate park and moving some ball fields from the north to the south, putting them where a playground had been in the original plans.
The alterations mobilized residents, who said they were caught off-guard by the plans.
"The changes that have occurred are no mere tweak, but are a major redesign," said Lisa Farley, who has lived on Sealed Message Road in Long Reach for the past 16 years. Farley said she supports Alternative G because she believes it would be better for the neighborhood without getting rid of any activities.
The draft plan presented to residents Sept. 11 was different in some ways from Refinement D, but many residents said they still were not pleased with the design.
Residents on the south side were not the only ones to speak out about park plans. Andrea LeWinter, who represents the Glenmont Blandair Park Coalition, said residents there oppose opening Summer Hollow Lane on the north side of the park to traffic.
LeWinter said residents want to keep a woodland buffer between them and the park and worry about the safety of neighborhood children and the possibility of a rise in crime if Summer Hollow Lane would become an access road.
Another group of residents, made up mostly of teenagers, urged parks staff not to eliminate the skate park. Dan Lesko, 17, said he has been pushing for the past two years for an alternative to the Columbia Association's skate park, which charges for use.
Lesko said he does not mind where it's located, as long as it exists.
"I've been put in handcuffs for skateboarding. Can you believe it?" Lesko said in asking for safe and legal places to skate in the county. "We don't have anywhere to go."
The county Department of Recreation and Parks will hold a public meeting at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 in the department's conference room to address Blandair after getting input from the citizen advisory committee. The board not only must approve it, but the design also will go before the county Planning Board and the County Council as part of the budget process.
The first phase of construction would start on the south side and include building three multipurpose fields, adding 300 to 400 parking spaces and bathrooms and creating the access road from Oakland Mills to Route 175.
"We have received a lot of input and we've tried to adjust the plan when it's possible to do that," said Recreation and Parks Director Gary Arthur.
As for the Alternative G supporters, they said they are hopeful parks officials will consider their ideas.
"I felt that we all presented our case well and I think we have a lot of support," Farley said. "I hope they will read through the transcripts of the hearing and take our concerns into account."
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