Residents criticize `Fallslake' proposal

Developer is seeking City Council support to build 35 to 40 homes

June 09, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

North Baltimore mobilized last night.

Calling themselves the Greater Falls Road Neighborhood Task Force, residents of eight communities voiced their displeasure over a proposed development of townhouses and cottages on a wooded 9-acre plot off Falls Road, near the county line.

It was a night of laborious presentations about zoning and environmental impact, followed by a shouting match between community leaders and City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector after community leaders suggested that the council was on the verge of introducing an ordinance supporting the development.

"I am not going to let you in my face tell me something that is not true," Spector said.

Ceiling fans roared inside Mount Washington United Methodist Church as 150 residents -- many with development sketches -- listened intently as community leaders outlined their objections. The crowd overflowed into the kitchen, and the parking lot overflowed with luxury automobiles.

"We are not categorically anti-development," said Bob Leffler of Poplar Hill, who organized the task force. But any new homes, he said, "just have to be a fit."

The community dodged one bullet yesterday. For several weeks, the issue had become a race against time for both sides. The developer, Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse Inc., said last week that it wanted an ordinance legalizing its plans introduced in the City Council before the summer recess begins Monday. Residents of Lake Falls, Poplar Hill and other neighborhoods hoped to stall the plan and use the summer to explore alternatives for the property.

Sandy Marenberg, Struever Bros.' director of acquisitions and planning, said the company would no longer seek action before summer, though that would delay the project three to six months.

"We and the community leaders realize it was not in anyone's best interests to continue pushing that point," said Marenberg, who attended the meeting as an observer. The company, he said, is ready to "begin working sessions with the community to resolve the issues that have been raised."

Struever Bros. advertises the project, "Fallslake," as a way to draw residents into the city. Residents warned that by doing harm to a cherished area, the development would drive outdoors-loving city dwellers to the suburbs.

Leffler said the community has raised $100,000 toward buying the plot and is exploring having the land preserved on a historic registry as part of the 18th-century mill town of Washingtonville. Struever Bros. has a preliminary contract to buy the privately owned site, but it has not closed on the deal and is not obligated to buy if the City Council decides not to endorse the project.

The $8 million proposed development, sketches of which have been delivered to the planning department, calls for a community of 35 to 40 densely clustered homes -- half single-family cottages and half townhouses selling between $179,000 and $299,000. The proposal would retain about half the property as protected woodland.

Residents also complained the development would increase congestion along Falls Road, create soil erosion and threaten a unique habitat for animals in the city.

Pub Date: 6/09/99

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