Good idea, wrong location

May 28, 1993

As real estate people say, location is everything. In this region, few locations are more magnificent -- and thus more attractive to developers -- than the lush valleys of northern Baltimore County.

Aware of many builders' desire to plant housing tracts throughout the valleys, county officials long ago wrote a master plan protecting the jurisdiction's rural pockets from development that would adversely affect their character.

The county's "gateway" valley, opening the way to the broad expanse of green that fills the top of the local map, is the picturesque Greenspring Valley. A large parcel of Greenspring land, the lot just south of Greenspring Valley Road and west of Falls Road, is particularly appealing to developers for its proximity to the Beltway and other large roadways, as well as for its natural beauty.

This piece of property happens to be where John Erickson, the man behind the huge and hugely successful Charlestown senior housing community in Catonsville, wants to build a facility similar to the one in the west county.

As Mr. Erickson rightly points out, there is a pressing need for affordable senior housing in Baltimore County, the jurisdiction with by far the highest median age in the local metropolitan area. However, the demand is not so urgent as to necessitate building a project of such size and density -- 2.5 million square feet, 2,500 residents, 1,500 apartments, a 400-bed health care facility and three community centers -- on a key part of what the county planning director calls "a nationally renowned example of agricultural preservation."

The proposed Charlestown at Greenspring project would produce a slew of negative results. The loss of the land, which includes trout streams, would be bad enough. The facility's impact on local traffic would make the calamity worse. That stretch of Falls Road above the Beltway is already a commuter's nightmare at rush hours. You don't have to be a traffic engineer to know that a massive housing complex will add even more strain.

Another risk to consider is the threat of further development, and further harm to the preservation area, if Mr. Erickson's request for an extension of water and sewer service is approved.

Though the need for elderly housing is great, there's no need for this project. It would permanently damage not just a significant piece of land but also the official philosophy protecting some of the most beautiful and most environmentally sensitive areas of the county.

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