Baltimore County officials may try to block measure on quarry sites

Some say bill would harm development efforts

July 21, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Concerned about the impact on Baltimore County's efforts to attract business, county officials might try to block a proposal that jeopardizes plans to build up to 1,000 homes on two of the last large tracts left for development.

Top county administrators said yesterday that they are closely examining the measure proposed by the County Council chairman that would give the council authority to review -- and possibly reverse -- plans for multimillion-dollar housing developments and dozens of shops at the site of two quarries slated to be closed by Arundel Corp.

Arundel won approval for 800 homes at the 286-acre Greenspring Quarry along Greenspring Avenue in 1985 and for 220 homes at 125-acre Delight Quarry in Reisterstown in January.

The measure to be voted on next month would change a 1984 law that stripped the council of the power to approve development plans for quarry sites. Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz says council members should have the same authority over those sites as they have over all other property in their districts.

Administration officials say they're not concerned only about the economic development repercussions but also fear the measure could prompt a lawsuit against the county.

Major concerns

"We don't have a position, but we have some major concerns about it," said Elise Armacost, a Ruppersberger spokesman.

Robert Barrett, a special assistant to Ruppersberger, said yesterday that he met with county attorney Virginia Barnhart and economic development director Robert Hannon.

"There's a lot of questions that are being asked about it," Hannon said.

Ruppersberger is expected to be briefed on the bill tomorrow when he returns from the National Association of Counties convention in Missouri.

Barrett said an advisory committee met eight years ago and spent 18 months devising a development plan for Delight Quarry that was acceptable to numerous community and civic groups.

"We don't want to see all that work undone," said Barrett, who served as chairman of the advisory committee.

John B. Howard, lawyer for Arundel Corp., said in a letter to Barrett that Arundel fulfilled its part of the agreements stemming from those meetings by closing quarry operations early.

The shutdown cost them "millions of dollars," Arundel officials said.

"These losses suffered by Arundel can only be recouped if Arundel is permitted to reclaim the properties and develop them," Howard wrote in the July 12 letter.

Howard said that if the bill passes it will damage the county's image in the business community and could hurt efforts to attract business.

Under current law, the county's planning board must approve plans to develop a quarry site. Once a plan is approved, the quarry owner has 15 years to develop the site and could extend the planning board's permit for another 15 years.

Kamenetz said that gives quarries an unfair advantage over other landowners, whose tracts are subject to council review every four years.

Quarry owners concerned

Other quarry owners also expressed concern about the bill yesterday.

"We've got enough regulations as it is. They should just use the regulations they have already and not create any more," said Scott Matthews, vice president of the family-owned Bluemont Quarries Inc., which owns quarries in Monkton and Butler.

Matthews said yesterday that the family-owned company has no immediate plans to shut down its quarries but doesn't want to face added hurdles if it decides to close.

William Richardson, a geologist with the state Department of the Environment's division of surface mines, which regulates quarries, said none of Baltimore County's nine quarries have filed plans to shut down. When they do, it takes at least two years before they may develop their sites.

Quarry owners must file detailed environmental reclamation plans that require at least two years of reviews and monitoring before they are allowed to develop a closed quarry, he said.

Kamenetz's bill is scheduled to be discussed at a council work session Tuesday and voted on Aug. 2.

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