Battle for Balto. Co.'s rural edge

Development is at a crossroads at Falls, Greenspring Valley

February 03, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

On one side of the road stand office buildings, upscale retail shops, a popular indoor racquet club and medical offices -- all within easy access of Interstate 83, downtown Baltimore and the Beltway.

On the other side is a rolling expanse of field and woodland that forms the threshold to Baltimore County's Green Spring Valley, with wealthy estates and working farms and a community determined to preserve its rural landscape.

"You've got a recipe for major fighting," said Baltimore County Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller.

This intersection of Falls and Greenspring Valley roads exemplifies the tension between property owners seeking to develop their land and those trying to ward off further encroachment of suburbia.

That fight has now landed in federal court, with the owner of the Greenspring Racquet Club, William Hershfeld, suing Baltimore County to block enforcement of a new law that would prohibit him from building an 86,900-square-foot retail and office building on the site.

The racquet club project is only one of a number of developments proposed or under way in the area.

A four-story office building is under construction at the former Windy Valley restaurant, and Foxleigh Enterprises -- the developer of Green Spring

Station -- wants to add an eight-story building with office, retail and parking to its complex.

The State Highway Administration is exploring the possibility of selling its 10.5-acre office and storage facility south of the intersection and moving the District 4 operation elsewhere, a move that could be several years away.

Businessman Clarence Elder is fighting attempts by Baltimore County to condemn his Meadowood Inc. property across Falls Road for a park; he hopes to develop the site.

Located just north of the Beltway and less than 10 miles from downtown Baltimore, the intersection features some of the priciest commercial and residential real estate in the county.

"This is the hub into the wealthiest part of the metropolitan area," said Stuart D. Kaplow, a lawyer for Foxleigh Enterprises, who says he fields several calls a year from investors interested in developing parcels near the intersection, in the community of Brooklandville.

The crossroads has been a draw for business for more than a century. The old Cockey's Tavern, which still stands on Falls Road, lured customers from the terminus of the Falls Road Turnpike in the 1840s.

In the 1940s, the Greenspring Inn -- now a Chinese restaurant -- drew crowds from throughout the region to dance to the music of Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey.

In the late 1970s, Foxleigh Enterprises began building the first phase of Green Spring Station.

The growth since then caught residents such as Jorgen Jensen by surprise.

"This was not an area that was presented in county planning as a growth area," said Jensen, who has lived in the nearby Heatherfield community since 1975. "The general feeling here is that development is out of line and overwhelms the neighborhood."

Like many residents, he feels the development has created unbearable traffic, which can back up from Falls and Greenspring Valley roads to the Beltway. County traffic engineers last year gave the Greenspring Valley-Joppa-Falls intersection a "D" rating -- one step above failing.

Jensen said that in September, while he and his neighbors were embroiled in a fight against proposals to develop the Green Spring Station area, he was injured in a rear-end collision at Falls and Joppa roads.

"That could have happened anywhere, but it indicates there has been a lot of activity there," he said.

Michael Friedman, vice president of Meadows of Greenspring Home Owners Association, complained that he sometimes waits through three changes of the traffic light at Falls Road and Seminary Avenue to get out of his neighborhood in the mornings.

Such complaints prompted County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire to introduce legislation last summer that has generated the legal wrangling.

His legislation, since signed into law, would kill the Foxleigh and Greenspring Racquet Club projects by prohibiting buildings taller than 35 feet near land zoned for rural conservation.

The influential Valleys Planning Council continues to criticize the busy area and is involved in five appeals relating to proposed development there, said director Jack Dillon.

"It's on the rural edge," Dillon said. "You're in a Catch-22: If development requires a widening of the roads, it ruins the rural character there; and if they shut down development until the roads are improved, you've defeated other interests."

Keller, the planning director, said the county is trying to achieve balance and smooth the transition from commercial land to rural land with construction of a park on the 98-acre property owned by Meadowood Inc. across Falls Road.

Elder, president of Meadowood Inc., had petitioned to have the land rezoned to permit a housing development and recently offered plans for a church and children's camp.

Keller said he envisions disputes continuing in this area for years. "It is begging to be developed," he said. "And every county policy is contrary to that."

Sun staff writers Jay Apperson and Melody Simmons contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 2/03/99

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