One of last wooded lots along Herring Run to be taken by development

October 13, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

When heavy rains roll across the Towson area, Cleve and Gayle Laub and other homeowners watch anxiously to see whether Herring Run will rise to snatch another azalea, topple one more tree or eat away another few feet of their back yards.

Standing by the 7-foot-high cliff the water has carved into his yard on Queen's Ferry Road, Mr. Laub, 52, talked about the increasing runoff from the shopping centers, roads and parking lots built since the neighborhood was developed in the 1950s.

"People thought they had this pretty little meandering stream in the country, and woke up 10 years later and found that wasn't the case," said Mr. Laub.

The runoff smothered life in the once-bucolic trout stream, residents say, and turned it into a destructive menace. Flooding forced the county to buy and demolish three homes at Queens Ferry and Glendale roads in 1977 and 1978.

Fearing additional runoff, the communities of Glendale and Glenmont have long tried to protect one of the last undeveloped properties in the watershed -- a heavily wooded 12-acre lot upstream at Loch Raven and Goucher boulevards. The woodlands absorb and slow runoff.

But last week, they were forced to give in to a developer who plans a four-story office building on the land. County Councilman Douglas B. Riley refused to act on sentiment in the community to rezone it in a way that would block development.

Citing his free-market convictions, the 4th District Republican told residents, "I cannot bring myself to zone it so the property would be worthless."

In better times, he said, the county would buy the whole lot to preserve the green space and compensate the owner. But for now, he said, "the county doesn't have the money to do that."

Faced with the inevitable, the Greater Glendale-Glenmont Community Association voted unhappily to endorse a rezoning scheme allowing the office building's construction on three acres of the wooded land.

Under the compromise recommended by the county planning board, the site's remaining eight acres would be donated to the county and remain wooded. But some residents were still angry.

"Riley will pay for this," Mr. Laub said. "All the other council members we've had have kept [development on the wood lot] away."

While the county should compensate the landowner, he said, "I don't think [Mr. Riley] has any moral obligation [to preserve the land's development potential]. His moral obligation is to the citizens who elected him."

The developer is Security Management Inc., in which Miami financier Victor Posner is a principal. Mr. Posner is extremely unpopular among Glendale and Glenmont residents because of another property he owns, Glenmont Apartments, which abuts the two communities.

Among other transgressions, he is accused by residents of poor maintenance at the Glenmont Apartments.

G. Scott Barhight, an attorney for Security Management, said he had no knowledge of past problems at the apartments. But since the arrival of Peter Fagan as executive vice president of Security Management 18 months ago, Mr. Barhight said, the apartments have undergone extensive renovations and are benefiting from "a change in management philosophy."

Nevertheless, several residents told Mr. Riley they would not hesitate to make Mr. Posner's land at Loch Raven and Goucher worthless. Mr. Riley responded firmly that he could not grant their wish, no matter how he feels about the developer.

"We live in a nation that does not have socialistic ownership of property," he said. "When someone buys land, they have the right to use it."

With some sort of development inevitable, residents at last week's meeting confronted a choice between an office building they understood, or alternative residential zoning with uncertain consequences for their neighborhood.

In the end, they voted to set aside the residential rezoning because of worry that Mr. Posner would put up low-income housing, which they associate with crime and other problems.

"I have a family, I have to look to the future, and I'm scared to death of residential," said one man. "We have enough problems with crime." With an office building, "I know when 5 o'clock comes, [office tenants] are gone."

Mr. Barhight said the community's decision to compromise was "a rational decision, a good analysis." He offered no timetable for construction of the building.

Mr. Riley's rezoning recommendation to the full council is likely to be approved at this Thursday's council rezoning session, under the tradition of "councilmanic courtesy." He declined to say beforehand which rezoning plan he would seek.

Yielding to the office building was not a happy solution for many in the community. Beyond the runoff issue, they worry about the proposal's awkward traffic plan and its economic viability, given office vacancy rates already near 20 percent in Towson.

For Charles A. Patenaude, who has lived on Glendale Road for 27 years, it was the last straw. "I've been toying with selling my little house," he said. "This has given it a push."

The community association, meanwhile, has appealed Security Management's storm-water runoff plan. The appeal is to be heard later this month, but residents are not counting on a victory.

E. Anna Hillman, president of the Glendale-Glenmont Commuity Association, said residents will seek other solutions to their erosion problems.

"It's a matter of really keeping the county aware of these things and hoping they will listen to us," she said.

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