Plans for Avalon include retail space

Pikesville residents raise traffic concerns

January 21, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

The developers of Avalon have a vision for their Pikesville project that does justice to the King Arthur stories that inspired its name: a Camelot where residents can swim, play tennis, bike through rolling country, shop at community stores and work at nearby offices.

But some neighbors and the influential Valleys Planning Council don't see it as Camelot. They argue that allowing stores in the 150-acre Avalon residential development would violate existing community plans and increase traffic congestion on Reisterstown Road.

The Baltimore County Planning Board is to vote today on a proposal to permit the retail businesses on a 10-acre parcel in the development, which straddles Reisterstown Road. The debate over Avalon is the latest controversy to erupt over a county zoning designation called a "commercial planned unit development," or PUD-C, which has been used to build projects ranging from the Avenue at White Marsh to small redevelopments on York Road.

In the case of Avalon, the developer, Questar Properties of Pikesville, has the right to build more than 200 apartments or 191,000 square feet of office space on the tract, but cannot build retail stores without a zoning change or the PUD-C designation.

John Colvin, one of the Questar partners, told the planning board earlier this month that the proposal to build 130,000 square feet of offices and stores is better than current zoning allows.

He said the cluster of retail and office buildings flanking a village green would bring a focal point to the community of apartments, townhouses, condominiums and single-family houses.

"This allows the residents of the community to foster greater opportunities to interact with their neighbors," he said.

Planners endorse proposal

Colvin called the proposed two- and three-story buildings "the antithesis of a strip center." County planners have endorsed the proposal as the kind of development they want to encourage.

"Whenever we can get a mix of uses on a neighborhood level, that's desirable," said county planning director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller.

Jack Dillon, director of the Valleys Planning Council, argued that by allowing stores, county officials would be disregarding community plans that residents and county officials have written to discourage more commercial development on Reisterstown Road.

"People do these plans, and no one pays attention to them," Dillon said.

Traffic concerns

Julius W. Lichter, a lawyer representing developer Howard Brown, said the project will create traffic problems that will harm his client's Valley Village Shopping Center next door.

"There's no additional need for additional commercial buildings on Reisterstown Road," Lichter said.

Keller said he sees no conflict between the Avalon proposal and existing community plans because the stores and offices being proposed would face into the community and not onto Reisterstown Road. Allowing residents to shop within their neighborhood might even help relieve congestion on Reisterstown Road, he said.

Some of the opposition stems from a misunderstanding about the size of the buildings, said architect Neal Payton of Torti Gallas and Partners-CHK, the Silver Spring firm designing the stores and offices.

"People assume the worst, and why shouldn't they? They usually get the worst," Payton said.

He envisions businesses such as a cafe and small retail services, surrounding a park-like lawn he called "a big community living room."

The County Council established the PUD-C designation in 1994 to allow more flexibility in commercially zoned districts, Keller said. In exchange for permitting uses the zoning on the land otherwise would not allow, developers that receive the designation are expected to adhere to strict design standards.

If the planning board agrees to the new designation for the Avalon parcel, the recommendation will go to the County Council. A specific development plan for the buildings would be reviewed by the planning board as well as by the county's usual review agencies.

Only a handful of PUD-C projects have been approved in the county. They range from the $45 million Avenue at White Marsh to a small project on York Road that transformed a former Comcast office into Scan International Contemporary Furniture and Starbucks Coffee stores.

An attempt to build a Price Club in Timonium with a PUD-C designation was defeated in 1995 by the planning board -- evidence that the process is sensitive to community concerns, Keller said.

"It shows that the system does work," he said.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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