Nine village boards in Columbia will formally oppose Rouse Co.'s proposed commercial development for the 51-acre Crescent site when the Howard County Planning Board resumes its hearing tonight on the plan.

In a series of letters, village board members said they believe the Rouse plan to build 1.2 million square feet of commercial space on the site, near Merriweather Post Pavilion, would generate too much traffic and would be premature, since the Columbia Association has just begun to consider the possibility of a master plan for Columbia's downtown. The Dorsey's Search Village Board, the only one not to send a letter, is scheduled to take up the issue Wednesday, said Jackie Felker, village manager.

Dennis W. Miller, the Rouse vice president in charge of the company's Columbia properties, told the Planning Board last month that the company would look at large retailers such as Barnes & Noble bookstores or Crate & Barrel home furnishings, but not big box retailers with a footprint of 100,000 square feet or more, such as Wal-Mart and Target.

Bridget Mugane, a lawyer who is head of the Howard County Citizens Association and a member of the Long Reach Village Board in Columbia, said the types of retailers Miller mentioned still would create too much traffic, based on the data in a traffic study Rouse Co. commissioned.

"We are opposing it because it is premature. We need a master plan," Mugane said. "And the traffic impact is just not acceptable at that place in the core of town."

The case, which has sparked substantial community opposition, may also be complicated by the expected absence of Planning Board Chairman Gary Kaufman, whose office said he was out of town indefinitely. Kaufman, who could not be reached for comment, has told county officials he plans to resign his chairmanship and would like to leave the board before his four-year term expires in May. There already is one vacancy on the five-member board.

No vote is expected tonight when the board resumes its hearing on the issue at 7 p.m. in the Banneker Room in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

The Rouse plan for the Crescent site would eliminate parking for Merriweather, which has operated as an outdoor concert venue for more than three decades.

A panel of county residents is examining a possible purchase of Merriweather by the county and is scheduled to make a recommendation by next month. Rouse is asking $6 million for the amphitheater and says it will only sell to a buyer who agrees to downsize and enclose it. The county panel, however, is leaning toward keeping it open as a large, outdoor venue.

Students Set Pace

Two Centennial High School students have organized a charity walk for 8:30 a.m. Sunday at Centennial Park to help raise money for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.

The girls, 15-year-olds Carrie Gartner and Shayna Meliker, started the fundraiser last year to honor one of their teachers and Carrie's uncle, both of whom suffer from Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.

The Miles for Miracles Pace Setter Walk last year drew about 300 participants and raised more than $57,000, according to a news release. The students said that they hope to surpass those numbers this year.

Participants may preregister by calling 443-276-0861. Participants can also register at the event.

Library Approves Plans

The Howard County Library's board of trustees last week approved a $57 million master plan that includes an 82,500-square-foot building to replace the Miller Branch Library in Ellicott City. The board also approved a plan to renovate the existing Miller library for office space. Library officials hope to purchase land for the new Miller library that is adjacent to the current branch.

The board held off on choosing a site for a new 25,000-square-foot library. Among the possible locations are the Maple Lawn and Waverly Woods areas, depending on the site ultimately selected for the Miller branch.

The board also emphasized the need for state-of-the-art libraries along the Route 1 corridor, preferably where the Elkridge and Savages branches are located.

The master plan was developed by Arizona-based Providence Associates Inc., which reviewed existing library facilities and projected future needs. The consultants worked with groups of library users, library staff, representatives from the county executive's office and the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning. The board approved a modified version of the master plan, which will now be submitted to County Executive James N. Robey with a request that money for it be included in his fiscal plan for next year.