Resident decries River Downs zoning request Commissioners urged to reject conditional use for lodge, banquet room

December 15, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

A River Downs resident wants the County Commissioners to turn down a zoning request that, if approved, could put a conference center in the middle of his expensive neighborhood.

Ken Strong told commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates, sitting as the county Zoning Board at a meeting last week, that he and "a number of residents" share the same concerns.

"We are fundamentally opposed to a hotel and banquet facility in the heart of our residential community," he said.

Richard A. Moore, developer of the 500-acre golf course community in Finksburg, told the board that a 24-room golf lodge and 200-seat banquet facility would "round out the amenity package at River Downs."

"It would be a place for weddings and large social gatherings," he said.

But to implement those plans, Moore would need a zoning law change that would make a "golf and country club lodge" a conditional use in a conservation district.

Strong said the proposed conference center -- which he labeled a hotel -- would have "many, many negatives" -- not the least of which would be increased traffic through the community throughout the day.

"Along with traffic comes people and the whole range of problems -- noise, vandalism and other types of crime to persons and property," Strong said. "This is not just inappropriate in our community, but in any conservation district."

When he and his neighbors were sold on the concept of the golfing community, they were not told that a conference center and banquet facility would be part of it, Strong said.

Although "about 25 percent" of his neighbors support the project, they are doing so because it is tied to a swim and tennis club, Strong said.

Janet M. Truhe, a Towson attorney who is president of the River Downs Homeowners Association, said the conference center, banquet facility and swim and tennis club are tied together, but "there was full disclosure" about it.

Homeowners who responded to a survey "voted overwhelming support for the lodge," she told the zoning board.

Space was provided for comments, she said, but no homeowners wrote that they wanted the swim club and not the lodge.

Westminster attorney John T. Maguire II had told the county planning commission in August that the lodge is needed to pay for a swim club.

And developer Moore, president of Gaylord Brooks Investment Co. Inc., told the planning commission that "the community has wanted for years to do a swimming and tennis facility."

But a swim club is very expensive, he said. He said he came up with the idea of a lodge to defray the cost. "Most ideas are born out of necessity," he said. "We don't plan to build the swim club until the lodge is approved."

River Downs resident Chris Holt told the Zoning Board that his family "very much supports" the swim and tennis club, but is concerned about the design of the lodge.

Moore said the conference center would have "a very residential, mid-19th-century" look.

Maguire, the attorney representing Moore, reminded the board members that they were not being asked to vote on the lodge, but on whether to add a conditional use to a conservation zone.

If a conference center and banquet facility were approved as a conditional use, the project would still have to go to the Board of Zoning Appeals for approval, Maguire said.

An affirmative vote of the County Commissioners sitting as the zoning board would "by no means indicate approval," Maguire said, but would "give the project a chance."

Dell and Yates said they would make a decision in about two weeks or early next month. Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown was absent from the hearing Thursday because of a death in his family.

Pub Date: 12/15/97

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