It was unanimous and right on the mark. The members of the Baltimore County Planning Board spoke with one clear voice in recommending against developer Nicholas Mangione's request to rezone part of the historic Hayfields Farm. Mr. Mangione, the owner of the 474-acre north county property, seeks higher-density zoning that would pave the way for him to build an 18-hole golf course and 50 luxury homes on 69 acres.
The planning board's recommendation has gone to the county Board of Appeals, which will issue the local government's final decision on the matter. The appeals panel needs to echo the planning board's strong denial of the Mangione petition.
Since 1980, Mr. Mangione and a previous Hayfields owner have tried unsuccessfully to change the zoning. Mr. Mangione's latest attempt actually comes close to complying with the current restrictions. Legally, he can put up 40 houses. However, he maintains he must build 50 if he is to raise the money that would allow him to construct the 18-hole golf course -- a project that, in itself, would call for a special zoning exception from the county.
Local citizens groups understand that a certain amount of development is permissible under law, and therefore unstoppable. Still, they would rather see Hayfields unmarred by bulldozer tracks. Preserving the north county -- for agricultural, historic and environmental reasons -- is a vital goal of area residents. It also is a central part of the county's master plan. Indeed, a recent report from the county Office of Planning and Zoning stated that the Hayfields property, a national historic site that includes a significant aquifer, deserves to be protected by more restrictive zoning.
County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger opposes the rezoning request, as he opposed similar attempts made during his nine-year tenure as the area's county councilman. This suggests Mr. Ruppersberger might be agreeable to a proposal for Hayfields that fits the present zoning guidelines. The ex-athlete and former business owner -- who, as executive, has stepped-up the county's economic development efforts -- is well aware that golf is important to the business community and that the county is known to have a woeful lack of tee times.
But would a 40-house/golf course development be much of an improvement over a project with only 10 more houses? In either configuration, the idea is wrong for the property. The planners' report had it right: North county spaces as precious as Hayfields need greater protection, not less.