Avalon construction OK is affirmed BALTIMORE COUNTY

January 09, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

The fight over the construction of Avalon, a proposed 855-home development that would straddle Reisterstown Road just north of the Beltway, is a classic Baltimore County development struggle.

If hundreds of new homes are built, neighbors and businessmen complain, congestion on Reisterstown Road most likely will turn from bad to impossible.

But the traffic isn't at crisis levels yet, so the county Board of Appeals on Thursday affirmed a ruling that the development can proceed.

If and when things get too bad, the county can stop issuing building permits for the houses under its limited Basic Services Law, said Stuart Kaplow, the attorney for the developer, John Colvin's Questar Associates.

"That's the way the county always does things . . . backwards,"countered J. Carroll Holzer, the lawyer for residents of Craddock Estates, an older 106-unit development at Craddock Lane and Reisterstown Road.

He said the county law doesn't kick into action until traffic congestion already has become a serious problem. Then people who already live near a development have to contend with snarls for years until some action is taken.

"My clients are very disturbed with the board's decision," Mr. Holzer said, although they haven't decided whether to appeal to Circuit Court.

Also opposing the development is Howard Brown, part owner of the neighboring Valley Village shopping center who fears the new construction will restrict access to his stores.

Mr. Kaplow said that arguments that the new homes will create traffic gridlock amount to mere "speculation" despite the fact that two intersections close to the 148-acre site are both rated "D" on a county scale of A to F, with F being the most congested. An E or F rating would automatically disqualify a development.

County traffic engineer C. Richard Moore testified that the long-term solution is a proposed interchange connecting McDonogh Road and I-795, the Northwest expressway. That would allow motorists access to the area from the expressway, instead of using Reisterstown Road. But there's no money for that now.

In 1985, when the Northwest Expressway opened from the Beltway to Reisterstown, it was hailed as the long-term solution to traffic congestion on Reisterstown Road. True to predictions, traffic volumes initially dropped by 40 percent.

Since then, though, developers have built hundreds of new homes and large shopping centers and businesses along both sides of Reisterstown Road.

With them came more congestion and new traffic lights. The Avalon site is the last large piece of open land in the area.

The Avalon development was originally approved by the County Review Group (CRG), a two-member committee composed of one planning and one public works official who give conceptual approval to all county developments.

By law, the Board of Appeals can only reverse the CRG's decision if it finds that it was arbitrary or capricious or arrived at by fraud.

In this case, the appeals board ruled that "the potential for future traffic problems . . . surely exists, but to deny the CRG approval on the hypothecation of what may develop is not within the jurisdiction of the CRG or this board."

The county recently reformed its development-approval process to give communities more say and county officials more discretion in issuing approvals, but Avalon was considered under the old process.

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