Strapped for money, Baltimore City has asked the Baltimore County Planning Board to rezone for commercial use 30 of the 53 wooded acres of the city-owned Cloisters Children's Museum property in the county's Brooklandville area.
But community associations in the 2nd Councilmanic District of Baltimore County adamantly oppose the city's request, said David A. Green, community planner for the district. He said he had received letters denouncing the plan from the Ruxton-Riderwood-Lake Roland Area Improvement Association and the Falls Road Scenic Group.
The castle-style mansion on the hill, completed in 1930 in a blend of late medieval French and English styles, was bequeathed to the city by Sumner A. and G. Dudrea Parker of Baltimore. Its upkeep is funded by the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture, donations, fees, admissions and grants, according to Beatrice E. Taylor, museum director.
"The museum needs a new water well. It's running dry," she said. "With an older historic site, when we do anything, we run across things we have to repair. For example, we put in a new bathroom and, because of the way the plumbing had been put in, they had to go into the ceiling of another room."
zTC The county location is currently zoned for resource conservation, which restricts development to homes on lots of one acre or more. The reclassification that the city wants would allow a variety of commercial uses, including shops, convenience stores and low-rise office buildings.
"I've had calls, heard rumors, about an office building," said Ms. Taylor.
But the area is not served by the county sewer and water system, so "I don't understand the rumors about an office building," she added.
The city's attorney, William M. Hesson Jr., said Baltimore wants commercial zoning at the top of the hill, near the museum.
The steep slopes would retain their conservation zone designation, he said. The ideas for its use, by sale or lease, do include a small office park that could be used as a corporate retreat, he added.
"The city is looking for a way to increase the value of the property, to generate some income to offset the costs [of overseeing the museum]," he said. "It's a valuable resource, an important asset to the community."
Baltimore County's planning staff has recommended against the city's request. County Planning Director P. David Fields recalled that the city's efforts to rezone the property are not new. During the Rasmussen administration in Towson, he said, the city unsuccessfully sought an increase in residential density at the site in hopes of selling lots to raise money.
Zoning guidelines favor rural conservation, Mr. Green said, noting that even if the zoning change were granted, any construction on the wooded hilltop beside Falls Road would have to clear environmental protection hurdles.
The city's request will be on the agenda at a public hearing before the county's Planning Board tonight. The petition is one of 45 rezoning applications in the 2nd District, part of a countywide process called comprehensive rezoning that occurs every four years in each councilmanic district. After the Planning Board makes a recommendation on each request in July, the petitions move to the County Council, which makes final decision on each in October.
The Planning Board will hear debate on Baltimore's petition to rezone part of the Cloisters property and other rezoning requests tonight at 7:30 at Randallstown High School, 4000 Offutt Road. Sign-up for speakers begins at 6 p.m.