Builders target smaller parcels Residents' 'back yards' are often developed, destroying woods

August 04, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Tom Kashuba was stunned when he learned that his neighbor was going to develop 13 acres into 23 homes behind Kashuba's 40-year-old rancher in a wooded section of Ellicott City.

"You go in thinking, 'I have a beautiful piece of property with 100-year-old tree stands. If they can stand there for 100 years, maybe they can stand there for another 100," says Kashuba, who is also the Normandy Heights Improvement Association treasurer. "But nope, that's not the way it goes."

Kashuba is not alone. Homeowners throughout the Ellicott City area who have lived for years next to small but lush parcels of trees, shrubs and other vegetation are losing them to new neighborhoods. The proposed developments include:

Bonnie Branch Overlook, which calls for 11 single-family homes on a 10.7-acre pocket of streams and wetlands on Ilchester Road.

Hollifield Estates, which involves the construction of 80 homes on an old farm on Old Frederick Road near the Baltimore County line.

Old Mill Overlook, which entails nine homes on a 5.9-acre wooded lot on Old Mill Road.

The accelerated pace of planning and building has left many residents frustrated as forests and other green spaces that were thought to be neighborhood fixtures are being surveyed and bulldozed for more houses. It's a process taking place throughout the Baltimore area.

"There's a perception that what you move next to will remain the same," says Ann Jones Koch, president of Ellicott City's North St. Johns Community Association. "That's not always true."

So-called in-fill development is occurring in nearly every jurisdiction in Maryland, where tiny pockets of green space are squeezed between large neighborhoods that value the parcels.

"It's a community's worst dream come true," says Baltimore County Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller, who estimates that a "majority" of the plans his office receives involve in-fill development. "To them, it's their last open space, and they absolutely fight tooth and nail to keep it that way."

The process to reach the in-fill development stage is the same everywhere: The most desirable parcels of land are developed first. Schools and roads soon follow.

As the amount of pristine acreage dwindles, developers are forced to eye the untouched pockets of land, though those parcels often have problems.

"They tend to be less developable pieces," says Howard County Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. "They're either steeper or they have some environmental issues, something that caused the developer to pass them the first time."

John A. Morris, a spokesman for planning and code enforcement in Anne Arundel County, says other factors involve the builder.

"Maybe the developer lost interest, didn't have the money, didn't want to build an additional road or maybe just retired," he says, adding that less than 300 of the 2,800 building permits distributed last year were slated for in-fill development. "You never know."

Because of the building obstacles and the relatively small acreage, many of the parcels targeted for in-fill development cannot accommodate a large number of homes. Twenty-three of the 44 residential projects awaiting approval in the Howard County planning department propose 20 homes or less, and 12 plans call for 10 homes or less.

Smart Growth initiative

Such in-fill development is encouraged by the Smart Growth initiative outlined by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who urged county officials to preserve rural areas by forcing growth to occur in regions with existing networks of roads, schools and public utilities.

"We're [destroying] rural lands," Rutter says. "We shouldn't be wasting existing infrastructure to build new lines that threaten the environment out there."

While most residents applaud the Smart Growth effort, some question whether they should have to bear the burden.

Smart Growth "forestalls growth in the west and puts pressure on the east," says Michael Smith, a member of the Bonnie Branch/Ilchester Community Association, which has objected to several projects planned for the area, including a 600-home proposal. "We need to find a balance between the two."

Besides adding more children to the schools and cars to the roads, in-fill development, residents say, can transform the region from a pastoral suburban setting to a crowded urban one.

"I used to see herds of deer in my back yard," says Sandy Roemer, who has lived in Ellicott City near the Baltimore County line for 11 years and is concerned about Hollifield Estates and two other projects proposed near her home. "They're gone now."

Every day, Jackie Mercer says, she could count on peering out the rear windows of her home in the Riverwalk community, gazing at the thick stand of trees that abut her back yard, and basking in a sense of rural living.

But Old Mill Overlook is forcing Mercer and her neighbors to do something they never thought they would do: buy curtains.

"Now, we're going to have to put some up for some privacy," she says.

'Developed already'

But a few homeowners in Font Hill Village say they don't mind living across from a proposed 27-home community on 15.2 acres to be called Font Hill Manor Farm Estates.

"The area is mostly developed already," says Debbie Lieberman, who has lived there for two years. "When we moved in here, we figured that any more development would have to be small scale based on the limitations here."

Departing County Councilman Darrel E. Drown, who represents the Ellicott City area, compares the region to Columbia.

"Growth is not as much an issue in Columbia as it is in Ellicott City because Columbia is almost built out," he says. "In 20 years, it won't be an issue in Ellicott City either."

In Normandy Heights, Kashuba tried a personal solution to the problem: He offered the neighbor $40,000 for one of the 13 wooded acres he was developing, hoping to buy a buffer. But the neighbor refused.

Pub Date: 8/04/98

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