Standing Firm against Colvista

October 14, 1993

Even opponents of the Colvista housing development concede the idea is a stunner. With its fashionable townhouses and wooded bike trails, it's the kind of plan that would have officials of any jurisdiction salivating with anticipation.

Certainly Baltimore County officials have been impressed with the 3,000-house proposal. There's just one major sticking point -- the location. The developer, Security Management Corp., wants to build on 215 acres it owns on the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed. For two decades, though, the county has denied requests by the owners to rezone the land for greater density. To the county government, protecting land near the reservoir -- a prime source of the Baltimore area's drinking water -- is practically a religion. And rightly so.

Security, headed by Victor Posner, is engaged in an $80 million lawsuit against the county for its denial of the corporation's last rezoning request. The county aims to have the suit dismissed and thus force Security to take its argument before the county's Board of Appeals, where the case for Colvista would stand much less of a chance for success than it would before a Circuit Court judge.

Some observers say Security's true motive for the lawsuit is to get county officials' depositions on the aspects of the Colvista plan that they find acceptable or not. Then, armed with that information, Security could drop the suit, revise their proposal more to the county's liking and re-submit it in the hope of finally winning the zoning change.

However the matter shakes out, the county must stay as adamant in its opposition to the plan as the developer has been in pursuing it. The watershed is no place for what would be one of the biggest housing tracts ever built in the county. Security, which could build 43 houses under the current zoning, says the proposed 3,000 homes would add tax revenues to the county coffers. Yet the earnings would be far outweighed by the costs of providing amenities for the development.

The builder also claims the county discriminated against Security by permitting nearby developments. But the numbers of homes in those tracts are fractions of the Colvista model. And even if the county erred in allowing those developments, the mistake shouldn't be repeated, especially with such a huge project. A concept like Colvista belongs in a growth area -- Owings Mills or White Marsh -- not on sensitive land that mustn't be stressed by a big housing tract. County officials have stood firm in that position. They must continue to do so.

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