County may buy disputed land Hearing on plan for golf complex delayed until Feb.

October 15, 1997|By Larry Carson and Liz Atwood | Larry Carson and Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Wading into a community dispute over a golf complex planned for the edge of Loch Raven Reservoir, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger proposed yesterday that the county buy the land and prevent its commercial development.

The offer came less than an hour before residents and developer Clark F. MacKenzie were to appear before the Board of Appeals for a second day of hearings on the $5 million project -- opposed by area residents and the city, which controls the reservoir.

MacKenzie said he intended to accept the county's offer, and the Board of Appeals postponed its hearing until February to give the two sides time to reach an agreement and the county time to find the money -- between $1 million and $1.5 million -- to pay for the 86-acre site.

"I'm pleased and delighted," said Royal Johnson, a Windemere resident who has fought the proposed nine-hole golf course and instructional facility.

"It's still not a done deal," said Suzanne Kunhardt, a Ravenhurst resident who opposed the project. "But I think it was very responsible for the county to do it."

Ruppersberger said he was "concerned about commercialization" on land zoned for rural conservation, as well as about the integrity of the watershed.

In May, a county hearing officer approved MacKenzie's plan to build the golf course, a museum and a 152-tee practice range as part of a golf school and semiprivate club on the land on Dulaney Valley Road between the reservoir and Towson Golf and Country Club.

Critics contended that the facility was not so much a golf course as a commercial driving range -- which is not permitted in a rural conservation zone -- and appealed.

In August, Baltimore protested the project, saying it threatened the city-owned reservoir that supplies drinking water to the area.

MacKenzie, chairman of MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services, appealed, too. He said yesterday he was confident he would have won before the Board of Appeals but agreed to accept the county's offer to preserve the site as open space. He said he has not decided whether to pursue development of a golf academy at another location.

The county has not decided what to do with the land, but Ruppersberger said that, however it is used, "We will make sure nothing negative impacts the watershed."

County Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat who represents the area, said he was pleased that the golf complex might not be built.

"That's good news," he said, noting that allowing the land's use for farming could be just as risky for the watershed as a golf course.

Ruppersberger's offer came a day after residents discussed proposing a compromise, Johnson said. Monday night, residents had debated a counterproposal that would have included dropping their appeal in exchange for a reduction in the number of practice tees to 20 and limiting the facility's use to club members.

But residents decided to postpone their offer for another week to see how the Board of Appeals case progressed.

"We were pretty confident of our case," Johnson said.

Ruppersberger stressed that he was not intervening because of pressure from either side. Ruppersberger said he decided to intervene before the Board of Appeals case went further and rising legal costs made the purchase more difficult.

His offer does not include buying about 60 acres slated for seven homes. MacKenzie said he intends to proceed with the housing development. Residents said they don't oppose the houses.

MacKenzie's lawyer, G. Scott Barhight, said he had presented the county with a letter of intent to sell the land, but the two sides will have to negotiate a price.

If the sale goes through, Ruppersberger and Davis said the land could be rented to farmers for continued agricultural use or developed as a daytime-only park with playing fields.

Although unusual, Ruppersberger's intervention to block the golf academy isn't without precedent.

In 1988, when Ruppersberger was a councilman, the county and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke opposed plans to expand Pine Ridge Golf Course at the Loch Raven watershed, and those plans were dropped.

The next year, the county agreed to contribute $1 million toward the purchase of a 177-acre tract next to Oregon Ridge Park, saving the land from a housing development.

In 1992, County Executive Roger B. Hayden proposed that the county buy the Granite stump dump, where a smoldering fire had blown smoke over the area for 18 months. That purchase never occurred.

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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