Landscape changing in Towson Proposed law office upsets neighbors who fear influx of business

July 26, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

When Mike and Tara Faulkner bought their turn-of-the-century Victorian home in West Towson 1 1/2 years ago, they had no idea the bungalow next door could become a law office.

But after pouring thousands of dollars into their old, rambling farmhouse in the 500 block of W. Allegheny Ave., the couple learned that a proposed zoning exception could bring commercialism deep into the community.

It is a prospect that has others in the neighborhood -- and those in many older residential areas of Baltimore County -- worried as they try to prevent businesses from moving into their midst.

"I think we should keep the neighborhood residential in character so it's a great place to raise a family," said Mike Faulkner, 29, whose first child, Emma, was born six weeks ago. "We're really afraid that if a couple of people [have businesses], there will be a change in zoning."

From Essex to Parkville to Timonium, residents have watched as homes on busy streets have been turned into professional offices, raising increasing concerns about encroachment. The property at 516 W. Allegheny Ave., which will be the subject of a zoning hearing tomorrow, is an example.

The neighborhood, once a haven for cows and apple orchards, has long tried to maintain its separation from Towson's commercial core.

Helen Weed, 84, who has lived on Woodbine Avenue since 1921, recalls buying milk from a dairy farm on her unpaved street and being surrounded by colorful fields of daffodils and dahlias that were cut and sold by a neighborhood greenhouse at Lexington Market.

As the decade progressed, the prime property began to be subdivided and sold. A 1926 advertisement in the Jeffersonian, the county weekly, offered "all-daylight" homes for $5,150 at Allegheny and Woodbine avenues. They featured three bedrooms, hardwood floors and baths with "pedestal lavatory and built-in tub."

Houses in West Towson now sell from $140,000 to $350,000, said Venetia Holland, a real estate agent who lives in the 500 block of W. Allegheny Ave.

Beginning in the late 1970s, commercial encroachment began to jump west across Bosley Avenue from the core of Towson into the neighborhood. Law offices, accounting firms and mortgage companies took over cedar-shingle and aluminum-sided houses where families once lived.

"One by one, all those properties between Bosley and Highland and Allegheny and Pennsylvania were sold off by families whose relatives died or who moved to Florida," said Richard Parsons, vice president of the West Towson Neighborhood Association, which is fighting the encroachment.

Highland Avenue, about a block into the neighborhood and parallel to Bosley Avenue, has served as a buffer between residential offices and the community. Currently, offices are permitted in an owner-occupied home if the zoning commissioner grants permission.

County officials say they have limited encroachment through restrictive zoning and planning.

"We believe we have a good transition from the town center," said county planner Diana Itter, who worked on West Towson recommendations approved by the County Council in 1992. "We adopted the Towson Community Plan to guide zoning decisions."

But residents question the necessity of offices moving farther into their community.

"They don't need to keep taking away our neighborhood," said longtime homeowner Beverly Pugsley, yanking a weed from her flower garden last week. "They have room in Towson."

The Allegheny Avenue proposal has brought the issue into focus for many. Holland, the real estate agent, said she did not know that the property -- owned by Abraham P. Korotki and for sale -- could become a business when she bought her stone house eight years ago.

'Chink in the armor'

"It is a chink in the armor," said Holland of the proposed law office. "It's just going to be very detrimental."

But attorney Howard L. Alderman Jr., who is representing Korotki in the zoning case, said his client had a law office in the house previously. It was allowed because it predated the 1982 zoning law requiring a special exception, he said.

Alderman said Korotki discontinued the law practice there, although he did not know when. A zoning exception is required bTC for the property to be used again as a law office.

"He's got a lot of interest in the property from legal professionals," Alderman said.

Korotki, who was involved in zoning hearings about the property in the 1980s and again a few years ago, did not return messages left on his answering machine last week.

Legal troubles

He is no stranger to controversy. Korotki's license to practice law was suspended for 18 months in 1990 for fee gouging. He was censured by the Maryland Court of Appeals for claiming 75 percent of a settlement awarded to five city firefighters who were injured in a chemical fire.

In 1993, he was found guilty of assault in a case involving a woman he was accused of striking at Michael's restaurant in Timonium. Korotki was given one year of probation before judgment and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service.

In another case, Korotki sued Fenwick Island, Del., in 1977, charging he was wrongfully stopped by a Fenwick Island policeman in Maryland. Although he was awarded $100,000 in punitive damages, a U.S. District Court judge overturned the verdict.

For now, neighbors are concerned about what Korotki will do with his Towson property.

"Allegheny is the gateway into the community," said John Pyle, president of the West Towson Neighborhood Association. "We cannot afford to lose this area."

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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