Proposed duplexes cause stir Reisterstown project raises zoning issues

June 06, 1996|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

In a development battle that has strained small-town ties and raised thorny zoning issues, a Baltimore County hearing officer will begin today to review plans for a 66-unit development of duplexes in the heart of Reisterstown.

Plans for Goldsborough Manor, a neighborhood of $150,000-and-up homes that would be built on about 9 acres just off Main Street, have been approved by county officials.

But opponents say the development will crowd roads and schools, is incompatible with houses in the nearby historic district, and would be built too close to existing houses.

They also charge that county officials stretched zoning rules and allowed the developer to jam the houses onto the land.

County officials have classified the development, which has duplexes joined at the rear rather than at the side, as "alternate" and "neo-traditional" housing -- which has less stringent setback requirements.

"The only problem is, what is neo-traditional?" said Rebecca G. Riegel, president of the Northwest Reisterstown Community Association. "Can you say, 'I want to build a lot of these things, squeeze them in -- it's neo-traditional?' "

Attorney Robert D. Sellers of Reisterstown plans to argue at today's hearing that county officials misinterpreted zoning regulations, and that the development should not be considered neo-traditional.

Goldsborough Manor's supporters say it would help reduce sprawl and create a village atmosphere by concentrating development.

They also say the alternate housing designation provides county officials with more control over architectural and landscaping details.

The developers are Virginia Goldsborough Schuster, longtime owner of the property, and Howard Brown, who became mired in controversy when he bulldozed the 18th-century Samuel Owings House on Feb. 29, hours before preservationists were to go to court to try to save the Owings Mills building.

Although the issue of defining neo-traditional housing has captured the attention of opponents, perhaps more significant was Brown's decision to build duplexes that share rear walls instead of side walls. That move, provided another argument for classifying the development as "alternate," and erased the need for the large setbacks required for back yards.

As a result, some houses are no more than 15 feet from the border with neighboring homeowners.

County planners did not initially recognize the unusual design as neo-traditional. But officials in the zoning office treated the project as alternate housing, arguing for a more liberal interpretation of design guidelines. Planners went along, in part because of a favorable review by an advisory panel of architects and engineers.

Members of the Design Review Panel said the plans achieved a traditional design, but expressed concerns about the houses' proximity to each other and to neighboring properties.

"By moving the entrances to the side, one could say they did find a loophole," said Nikolaus Philipsen, an architect on the panel. "But they did find it, and we couldn't do anything about it."

Besides raising issues within the county development review process, the proposal also has stirred controversy within the Reisterstown and Glyndon communities. Schuster is a real estate agent whose family has deep roots in Reisterstown.

Even as the development proposal is being considered, the Northwest Reisterstown Community Association has petitioned to down zone the property. The Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Chamber of Commerce opposes that request.

Schuster's son, John, is a former president of the chamber. Her nephew, Baltimore Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr., is married to the chamber's executive director, Sandy Smith, who has praised the project's architecture.

Julius W. Lichter, lawyer for the developers, said his clients hope to get approval for the project and begin construction before a ruling on the rezoning petition.

Lawrence E. Schmidt, the county's zoning commissioner, is to hear testimony on the development plan at 9 a.m. in Room 118 of the old county courthouse. A decision normally is issued within 15 days of the hearing.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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