It's the haves vs. the haves.
Both are used to having their way.
In a time when development battles are long and fiercely fought in Baltimore County, the struggle pitting St. Timothy's School against its well-heeled and well-connected neighbors over the future of 90 acres of pristine land threatens to set records -- for resourcefulness and acrimony, as well as length of argument.
Since the small, private girls' school in Green Spring Valley unveiled its plan for Bridle Ridge, a 63-home development on what is now fields and woodlands, neither the school nor its unhappy neighbors has blinked. With high-priced lawyers, landscape architects, planners and preservationists, each side has committed lots of money, time and energy to the bitter battle that is 18 months old and shows no signs of flagging.
Organized as the Coalition to Preserve the Valleys from St. Timothy's Bridle Ridge Development, community members have used their money and connections to wage their battle to preserve "the character" of the valley. The coalition, with a mailing list of more than 700 names, has raised $50,000 from hundreds of contributors.
And in the lawyer-rich valley, there has been no shortage of pro bono consultations and advice.
"It's a community of means," said J. John Dillon, new director of the Valleys Planning Council and a retired county planner. "I've seen the same intensity of concern in Essex and Dundalk and Arbutus, where they don't have the wherewithal to sustain a court battle."
But this is "the gateway to Green Spring Valley," as both sides of this argument like to refer to the land in question.
Some of the area's most aristocratic and wealthy families are St. Timothy's neighbors. Three-quarters of an acre is a small lot; the cheapest homes sell in the $300,000s and the most expensive easily top $1 million. It's not unusual for residents to buy adjacent land to ensure privacy or make room for their horses.
Although the politics are complicated, the arguments are fairly simple.
St. Timothy's officials say the school needs to sell part of its 230-acre campus to enrich its endowment and ensure the future of the 115-year-old boarding and day school. Because the school wants control over the way the land is developed, it wants county approval of its plan before putting the property up for sale.
The plan calls for 63 homes, many of them clustered in cul-de-sacs along a swath that cuts an L-shape west from Greenspring Avenue.
Community residents, upset at any development on what is now hayfields, lush woods, riding trails and home to deer, fox and owls, claim that the development is far too dense for the neighborhood. It will overcrowd their schools, overburden the water supply, destroy the environment and create traffic problems, they say.
And property values will surely fall, especially for those who own homes overlooking the St. Timothy's fields that will become Bridle Ridge back yards, opponents say. Though no one connected with the development will estimate the price of proposed lots or houses, community residents say the density will make for smaller, cheaper homes than they would like.
Coalition members, who frequently wear badges reading "Say Neigh to Bridle Ridge," have stated their opposition repeatedly -- at private meetings with school officials, at community input meetings required by the county, before the planning commission and the county landmarks commission, where they wrangled for months over the historic nature of the property -- and the process that is supposed to protect it.
"The really sad part is that St. Tim's has bulldozer vision," said Amy Kahn, a coalition leader dubbed "the general" by other members. "We understand their need to develop the property. They also have a duty to listen to the community they reside in. They have not worked with anybody," she added.
School officials disagree.
"We have tried to be sensitive to the concerns of every constituency," said headmistress Deborah Cook. The school met with its neighbors and heard alternative suggestions for Bridle Ridge, she said.
The ideas they heard -- selling larger lots for higher prices, clustering fewer homes in the center of the property, selling the land to someone who would preserve it as is, considering uses such as another school or nursing home -- did not meet the financial needs of St. Timothy's, said Guy R. Martin, vice president of the school's board of trustees and chairman of its land-use committee.
Martin said the board considered several alternatives, but concluded they would not bring as much money as the school expects from the development. "We had a number of meetings. What they say now is we are inflexible. It tends to mean we are not doing what they want," he said.
The battle moves into the public arena again July 21 and 22, when the county's hearing on the development plan goes into its eighth and ninth days.