Keep Greenspring Valley Green

June 04, 1993

John Erickson, the man behind the huge and hugely successful Charlestown senior housing community in Catonsville, wants to build a similar facility elsewhere in Baltimore County.

Good idea.

The potential site Mr. Erickson has in mind is a large parcel of land at the gateway to the county's picturesque Greenspring Valley, just south of Greenspring Valley Road and west of Falls Road.

Terrible idea.

As Mr. Erickson 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.

Yet 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."

Greenspring Valley is indeed something special. Its natural splendors would be noteworthy by any standard, but they're all the more precious for their cheek-by-jowl proximity to the nation's fourth largest urban corridor. Baltimore County officials recognized that fact when they wrote a master plan protecting the county's rural pockets from development that would adversely affect their character.

The proposed Charlestown at Greenspring project would produce such a negative result. The loss of the potential site, which includes trout streams, would be bad enough. The facility's impact on local traffic would compound the calamity. That stretch of Falls Road, just north of the Beltway, is already a commuter's nightmare at rush hours. Imagine the strain a massive housing complex would add.

There is also 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 were to be granted.

Mr. Erickson is wise in seeking to re-create the success of his Catonsville facility. However, he would be wiser still to shift his sights to other spots -- the designated growth areas of Owings Mills and White Marsh or the Loveton industrial park near Sparks. Yes, the need for elderly housing is high. But there's no need for an ill-advised project that would irreparably damage not just an important piece of land but also the official philosophy protecting some of the most beautiful and most environmentally sensitive parts of the county.

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