A plan by Villa Julie College to double its enrollment and the size of its buildings has neighbors concerned about the impact on the picturesque Green Spring Valley.
"Green Spring Valley is one of the most beautiful areas in the state and this plan will only hurt it," said Stephen Dimond, president of the Homeowners of Greenspring Limited, a group of 56 homeowners.
The college, on Greenspring Valley Road in Stevenson, opened in 1947 as a one-year secretarial school and has been growing steadily ever since, marketing itself as a school with "a name that opens doors" to employers.
Enrollments have shot up over the past 10 years from 1,000 to 1,683 students this fall. The school won state approval to offer bachelor's degrees in 1984 and accreditation of its four-year degree program in 1988.
But the college has become a victim of its own success, attracting so many students that it needs more room, school officials say.
A failing septic system, and crowded classrooms, faculty offices and student center have prompted the school to propose an ambitious $8 million building program that will double the size of its classroom and office capacity over the next 10 years.
"We need to grow to remain financially viable," said Virginia Tanner, a school spokesman.
Last week, the college submitted a petition to the county planning office that spells out the project. Plans call for construction of an academic center, a classroom building and an addition to the Learning Resource Center in the center of the campus.
The school also wants to build a $1 million sewage-treatment plant with a capacity to handle 62,000 gallons of wastewater a day.
The college is seeking county approval to have the 60-acre campus rezoned from its RC2 designation to RC5. The latter would mean county approval for the new buildings, and a green light for any future buildings, county officials said.
Benjamin Bronstein, the attorney representing the school, said the new buildings would not be visible from Greenspring Valley Road because of a bank of trees that fronts the campus and because of the hilly terrain.
The school will remain a small college for commuters and its neighbors will see no major differences in traffic or campus activities, he said.
"The school has never presented a problem for the community, nor will it present a problem with the expansion," Mr. Bronstein said.
But neighbors in the Green Spring Valley, an area of scenic hills and expensive homes, are concerned about what they see as a pattern of growth with no end in sight.
Margaret Worrall, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, an environmental planning group, said her group is not opposed to Villa Julie adding buildings and classrooms. But she said increased enrollment will inevitably mean more traffic in a predominantly rural area.
"We just don't feel that they can double their size and not have that take its toll on the community," she said.
Neighbors add that they are concerned about the potential of unlimited growth in future decades.
"They could start growing and growing and growing and we could wind up with a Towson State out there," Mr. Dimond said.
But college officials say they have no intention of ever allowing massive growth.
"It's not our intention to change the character of the school, nor to change the character of the valley," Mr. Bronstein said.
As a first step, the college must obtain a permit from the state Department of the Environment for the wastewater plant, which would replace the school's failing septic systems.
John Goheen, a department spokesman, said department analysts are reviewing an operating permit application for the plant, which would discharge the school's wastewater into a small stream that flows into the Jones Falls.
A public hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Nov. 21 at the Environment Department offices at 2500 Broening Highway.
State officials say they likely will approve the permit, simply because it appears to be the best alternative.
"It is a small stream, but we've worked with Villa Julie in exploring other options," Mr. Goheen said. "This is really the only feasible option remaining."