Housing proposal rankles residents Balto. Co. zone plan revives rift over east side

June 10, 1996|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Residents of Todd Point Peninsula in Edgemere thought they had won their battle against a planned 366-house subdivision when the state's Court of Special Appeals ruled in their favor in December.

But a model home for Beachwood Estates is open for inspection, the sales office is doing a brisk business and construction of the midpriced houses with quarter-acre lots will begin in two weeks.

In a controversy that illustrates opposing views of how to revitalize Baltimore County's troubled east side, it turns out that the residents have won the battle but lost the war.

Although the state's second-highest court upheld the community's position that zoning on the 150-acre property five miles east of Dundalk should permit no more than one house per acre, the county's planning staff, planning board, and most important, the district's county councilman favor increasing the density to allow the Beachwood development to proceed.

With the quadrennial comprehensive rezoning in progress, they have the power to turn their wishes into reality.

Dundalk Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, business leaders, and the developer say providing affordable new homes for young families is essential for revitalizing the area. The residents of Todd Point, a 50-year-old waterfront community, say the key to revitalization is protecting the area's environment, roads and quality of life.

"This district has a whole history of people coming in with money and putting in bad projects," argues Jan Ramsay, president of the North Point Peninsula Community Coordinating Council. The community has fought several industrial projects.

The low-lying parcel at the heart of the controversy once was a farm, then the site of a proposed industrial park. When the park did not materialize, residents successfully petitioned the county to change the land's zoning from heavy manufacturing to residential. In 1984, the County Council placed the housing density at 5.5 units per acre.

But, with new state environmental restrictions limiting development along the waterfront, the zoning on the marshy land had to be changed, and in 1992, the council agreed to limit construction on the property to one house per acre.

Several months later, Beachwood Limited Partnership sought a zoning change to allow 3.5 houses per acre. County officials supported the request for a 366-home community, provided the developer pay for improvements to North Point Boulevard at Morse Lane to accommodate the increased traffic.

Meanwhile, the residents turned to the courts and eventually won their case to retain the one-house-per-acre zoning on the site.

But by the time the court issued its ruling in December, DePazzo had announced he would support the Beachwood project and change the zoning during this year's rezoning process.

Attracting young families

Although the zoning remains at one house per acre, the developer is allowed to build until he reaches a maximum of 145 houses. Before that happens, the County Council likely will defer to DePazzo, the local councilman, and increase the zoning density to permit 354 houses, which the developer now seeks.

"That kind of housing will keep people from moving from Dundalk," DePazzo says.

His position is echoed by the Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce, which hopes that keeping young families in the neighborhood will be good for business.

"We believe one of the problems in older neighborhoods like Dundalk is that young families leave because they do not have good housing products," says Patricia Winter, director of the chamber. "We don't want them going to Perry Hall or Bel Air."

But opponents fear the development is one more undesirable project being thrust on a community suffering from pollution, deteriorating streets and crowding.

"There are so many things we always having to fight," says Virginia Tolbert, past president of the North Point Peninsula Coordinating Council. "Why can't we have a little bit of open space and greenery?"

Sixty-eight acres -- more than one-third of the Beachwood site -- will be left untouched, mainly because of government restrictions on developing wetlands, but Ramsay stresses that the project the developer wants to build is too dense for the area.

"We're not against development, but we don't want 366 houses there," she says.

The developer donated land to the state so the Morse Lane and North Point Boulevard intersection could be moved to improve visibility, but Ramsay says traffic will remain a problem if Beachwood is built.

Residents also worry about increased pollution flowing into the nearby Back River.

Market questions

Ramsay bristles at the argument from the builder and the Chamber of Commerce that a lower-density project would not be marketable.

"It's not the community's responsibility to see that the builder makes money," she says. "He bought the land with [one-house per acre] zoning."

Developer Armando Cignarale responds that only a few residents oppose the project and that he has sold 40 houses, proving the need for new houses in the $119,000 to $170,000 price range. "It's the people in the community who are buying them," he says.

Residents say they still hope to persuade DePazzo to change his mind and oppose the zoning change, although they acknowledge the likelihood of that is slim.

"We have one opportunity to win and that's at the ballot box," Ramsay says.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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