Developer unveils plan to build 150 homes on property in Sparks

Community pressure forces company to scale back proposal

October 27, 1999|By Jay Apperson and Liz Atwood | Jay Apperson and Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Rekindling a land-use battle that has raged intermittently for nearly two decades in northern Baltimore County, a developer yesterday announced plans to build 150 houses at the site of the ill-fated Colvista project.

Developer Victor Posner's Security Management Corp. unveiled scaled-back plans for the 215-acre property in Sparks, seeking to build upscale houses instead of a previously proposed Italianate hillside village of 1,500 townhouses and condominiums.

The company also offered to sweeten the proposal by addressing a "safety" problem at the nearby Northern Central Railroad Trail. The company said that, if the new plan is approved, it would donate some land for a parking lot for trail visitors, who often park along busy Papermill Road.

The original hillside village plan died when developers failed to get approval for needed zoning changes. Area residents fiercely opposed those changes, and community leaders said yesterday that the developer can expect another fight.

"There are still enough people out here that, when the word `Colvista' is spoken, it raises the hairs on the back of their necks," said Lee Riley, a lawyer and former president of the Greater Sparks-Glencoe Community Council. Although he said some residents might be worn down by the years of fighting, he predicted, "There's going to be an enormous amount of opposition."

Security Management vice president Robert O. Schuetz acknowledged the history of controversy, saying, "I don't think it's going to help us."

But Schuetz said that area residents should favor the plan because it would bring public water and sewer to the project, while current zoning would require houses to be built with more environmentally hazardous septic systems.

The proposed project, Summit Estates at Hunt Valley, would feature homes that would sell for $375,000 to nearly $700,000, marketed for executives at nearby industrial parks.

Security Management filed a request Monday to rezone 150 acres of its property to a residential classification that would permit one house per acre. The property's current rural zoning would allow 43 houses.

County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who would likely decide the rezoning request, said he was concerned about the proposed development's impact on neighboring communities and the nearby Loch Raven Reservoir watershed.

"I've got to hear from all of those concerned and then I'll do my best to make an objective judgment," said McIntire, a Republican who represents the north county.

McIntire has consistently opposed allowing development to creep into rural areas of the county.

During the last comprehensive zoning cycle four years ago, he headed an effort to impose stricter zoning designations to limit development on 9,000 acres of rural land. Last year, he sponsored a bill, which later became law, limiting development adjacent to rural areas.

Security Management's proposal for extending public water and sewer service to the property raises other concerns, McIntire said. Although the property lies within the public water and sewer district, it is outside the county's growth boundaries.

Public works officials said they could not recall other instances in which the county had agreed to extend services beyond those boundaries, except when wells and septic systems were failing and causing health concerns.

Yesterday's announcement was the latest milestone in a zoning fight that originated in 1976. That year, the county rezoned the former Towson Nurseries property for watershed protection, and limited development to one house for every five acres. The battle was touched off four years later, when Security Management applied for a return to the land's former, higher-density zoning.

In 1992, the company proposed a 3,000-unit project for the site, and asked again that it be rezoned. After the county council rejected the request, Security Management unsuccessfully sued the county.

In 1995, the county board of appeals -- then chaired by Schuetz, the current Security Management official -- again rejected a scaled-down rezoning request by the company for 1,500 homes.

In 1997, the Maryland Court of Appeals reaffirmed earlier decisions denying the rezoning request.

The announcement yesterday emphasized the developer's offer to donate land for a 200-space parking lot, and a trail leading toward the watershed and the NCR Trail.

That proposal would involve three political jurisdictions: the county, which would receive title to the developer's donated land; Baltimore City, which owns watershed property at the reservoir; and the state, which owns the hike-and-bike trail.

John F. Weber III, director of recreation and parks for the county, said his department might be interested in the proposal.

City Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt L. Kocher said officials would weigh any potential effect on reservoir water quality before allowing a trail to cross its land.

John Surrick, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said park officials plan to build a 100-space lot on Papermill Road. He said officials would consider whether another lot at the Security Management site might provide "too much access" to -- and too many hikers and bikers on -- the trail.

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