Council to vote on limits to growth Baltimore County bill would halt projects at Green Spring Station

October 05, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Seeking to soften the crush of development on Baltimore County's fields and woodlands, the County Council is poised to pass legislation tonight that would stop the proposed expansion of offices and stores at the eastern gateway to scenic Green Spring Valley.

Council members say the legislation is needed to protect rural areas such as the valley, where traffic-weary residents have been battling the Green Spring Station expansion on Falls Road.

But lawyers for the developers call the measure an election-year "ruse" to placate voters and threaten to sue if it passes.

"This violates both the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Declaration of Rights," said Stuart D. Kaplow, a lawyer representing the owners of Green Spring Station. "You can't pass a bill for one citizen."

Tension between development and preservation is high throughout Baltimore County and other suburbs. But nowhere is it greater than at Greenspring Valley and Falls roads, where rolling farmland and million-dollar estates lie a short distance from Interstate 695.

Residents fought a planned residential development on the St. Timothy's School campus in Stevenson for years, and squared off against a business executive who lands his helicopter on Green Spring Valley property.

In April, the county moved to purchase for parkland a 95-acre parcel just across from Green Spring Station after the owner said he would seek to build a housing development.

Now the controversy centers on Green Spring Station, a complex of offices and retail establishments off Falls Road -- an area residents say is already congested.

One developer wants to add an eight-story complex with 130,000 square feet of office space on the site, while another wants to build an 86,900-square-foot retail and office building. Both proposals have drawn criticism from residents worried about traffic and sewer capacity.

Bill provisions

The bill up for a vote tonight would require a county hearing officer to approve the construction of a building taller than 35 feet near land zoned for rural conservation. Although some 40 business-zoned properties throughout the county would be affected, the bill is widely seen as a way to stop the two proposed expansions of Green Spring Station.

Neither the developers' lawyers nor county officials could recall another time when the council had passed legislation aimed at stopping a commercial project.

But a majority of council members say they favor the bill because they believe it would protect rural areas in their own communities from dense development.

"I don't look at it as affecting a single project," said Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat.

Developers see the bill as a direct threat to their plans.

Foxleigh Enterprises, the developer of Green Spring Station, has proposed an eight-story building that would include five levels of parking topped by three stories of office space. County reviewers have approved the plans, but no building permits have been issued.

William Hirshfeld, the owner of the Greenspring Racquet Club, and developer Howard Brown want to build the 86,900-square-foot retail and office building on the site of the club. County officials have refused to review that proposal because of the pending legislation.

Rural protections

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a Republican who represents Owings Mills and north Baltimore County, said he decided to introduce the legislation after discovering what he considered an anomaly in the zoning law. While residential areas next to business zones have buffers against intense development, rural areas do not.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's been something that's been overlooked," he said.

McIntire has proposed several amendments to make the bill more palatable. He suggests exempting the county's growth areas in Owings Mills and White Marsh from the restrictions and exempting existing buildings. McIntire also wants to amend his bill to reduce the required distance between large buildings and rural land from 1,000 feet to 750 feet.

While a hearing officer could still approve the Green Spring projects, such approval would be difficult to win, lawyers said.

"This legislation makes it not possible to build the building on this site," Kaplow told the council at a meeting last week.

'It's a ruse

Kaplow and Julius W. Lichter, a lawyer representing Brown, disputed claims that the bill would protect agricultural areas.

"It's a ruse during a political year," Lichter said.

Lichter said later that the developer would be forced to go to court. "There is too much involved to be treated like this," he said.

The Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce wants the council to delay voting on the measure and asked that it be sent to the county's Planning Board for review.

"We think it has impact beyond this particular project," said chamber President Robert McKinney. "We think it should be slowed down."

Green Spring area residents, meanwhile, urge the council to pass the measure.

The county administration has taken no position on the bill, although Economic Development Director Robert L. Hannon said did not believe the bill would adversely affect the county's efforts to attract business.

Two council members expressed reservations about the bill. Democrats Vincent J. Gardina of Perry Hall and Louis L. DePazzo of Dundalk said they were worried that the bill could inhibit economic development that is needed on the county's east side.

Pub Date: 10/05/98

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