New zoning clears way for Asian theme park

September 12, 1990|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

A new, very broad set of zoning regulations has been created by Baltimore County officials to accommodate the proposed 1,000-acre Worldbridge Asian theme park-trade center in Middle River.

The proposed regulations create, in effect, a modified Planned Unit Development, drafted specifically for Worldbridge, a $1 billion project that is is the brainchild of New York developer Dean Gitter. Although created to serve Worldbridge, the new "Cultural Center Park" zoning category could theoretically be used for other developments that meet the same criteria.

Gitter announced in late August that Westinghouse Electric Corp. will take over a key role in developing the park, which he calls Worldbridge Centre. Besides the theme park, he wants to build hotels, a world trade center, a huge office tower and condominiums on the site.

It has been about two years since Gitter outlined a preliminary plan for Worldbridge, but he has not submitted a detailed plan to the county. Consequently, the new regulations outline the broadest possible limits for the project.

The county planning board has scheduled a public hearing on the regulations Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. in the County Council chambers.

Under the new regulations, a cultural center park must have at least 400 contiguous acres, and at least 25 percent of the land is to remain open space. Such a park can only be built on land classified in three manufacturing zones. Because of the unusual combination of requirements, county officials believe it is virtually impossible for any other such park to qualify in the future.

The specific uses permitted either by right in the manufacturing zones or by special zoning exception in the legislation give Gitter great latitude.

The land could be used for light manufacturing or the creation of stadiums, golf courses, hospitals, housing for the elderly, "fortunetelling establishments" or pawn shops.

Helicopter flights and auto service facilities are also permitted, although service stations are limited to 1 per 100 acres. Parking requirements are 10 passenger car spaces per acre, and 20 bus spaces per 100 acres.

Among uses expressly prohibited on the land are open dumps, junk yards, oil refineries, explosives, poultry processing, and chemical or organic fertilizer manufacture.

Signs within the park are limited to 50 feet in height, and 300 square feet per side.

If the cultural theme park is abandoned for more than 18 months and the owner has no intention to reopen it, the park will cease to exist as special entity under the zoning laws. But businesses could continue to operate and some other land uses would still be permitted.

Because current zoning laws would not permit the creation of Worldbridge, the special regulations were created solely for the project, county attorney Arnold E. Jablon told the planning board last week.

County control over the specific elements of the park would come through the tiered review process created by the regulations. That review would begin when Gitter submits an actual plan for the park's development.

The proposed rules set up a fast-paced schedule of consideration, requiring planning staff review of the plan and comments from all county agencies within 30 days of submission of the plan.

The proposed regulations set up a more thorough approval procedure than normally required for PUDs. Public hearings and reviews by the planning board and the County Council are mandated. The council normally does not review PUDs.

If the council approves the conceptual plans, they will move to the County Review Group for further review. Like any new development, plans for specific portions of the park must be approved one part at a time by the review group, which monitors developments to make sure they meet county requirements.

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