Quarry owner resists effort to shrink plans for new homes, offices

Legislative proposal in Baltimore County could tighten limits

November 30, 1999|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

As Greenspring Quarry near Pikesville winds down operations, a compromise on how many homes can be built around the abandoned rock pit remains elusive.

Developer Steven S. Koren, representing landowner Florida Rock Industries of Jacksonville, Fla., says his company has sacrificed greatly by reducing the number of homes planned to nearly a fifth below what is allowed under a 1984 agreement with community groups.

"We cannot give any more," Koren said.

The 624 homes and condominiums he wants to build -- with a hotel and office space -- "is a high-quality residential and commercial development," he said.

But Baltimore County Council Chairman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, doesn't like the final offer.

Unveiling a powerful incentive to scale back further, Kamenetz has introduced legislation that would apply today's more restrictive zoning laws to the quarry site, rather than the rules in place in 1984. If the legislation were approved and followed, the number of homes -- and resulting traffic increase on Greenspring Avenue -- would be significantly reduced.

Kamenetz's measure is scheduled for a vote at the council's final meeting of the year Dec. 20 -- 11 days before the quarry is to close and construction could begin.

If the measure is approved, a legal battle between the developer and the county is likely.

Neither side is blinking in a high-stakes game where millions of dollars and the future of a community feeling stressed by development hang in the balance. South of the Beltway off Greenspring Avenue, the area has experienced considerable growth in the past decade.

Greenspring and several other quarries are among the largest open spaces in the county. They have become increasingly desirable for residential development.

The plan calls for flooding Greenspring Quarry to create a 500-foot-deep lake surrounded by upscale homes.

Kamenetz and other county officials are concerned that quarry redevelopment plans are treated more leniently than other building proposals. County law requires only a planning board review of quarry reclamation plans. The law specifies that approvals remain in effect for 15 years.

Construction on the sites doesn't have to meet current zoning laws -- only the rules that were in place at the time of the agreement. Council members have no power to approve or alter the plans even if conditions change. The Greenspring Quarry development plan was renewed in 1995 and extends to 2010.

Kamenetz offered the bill in July to make quarries meet current zoning regulations, but withdrew it as negotiations got under way.

Rob Hoffman, a Towson land-use attorney representing Florida Rock, said he doesn't mind.

"I believe Kevin when he told me, `I want to bring this thing to a conclusion one way or another,' " Hoffman said. "I believe him when he tells me we are making progress, and the introduction of a bill was a way of putting a deadline on things."

Kamenetz, however, wouldn't show his hand.

Asked the likelihood of tabling the bill again, Kamenetz said, "I don't know.

"I still think the bill introduced is the right thing to do," he said.

The proposed law would have a distinct impact on Florida Rock. At Greenspring, the company proposes building 125 single-family homes and almost 500 townhouses and condominiums. That's a reduction from the 770 homes the developer is allowed under the pact approved in 1984.

The company is also developing the 125-acre Delight Quarry site in Reisterstown, where plans call for 100 single-family homes, 120 townhouses, 256 apartments for the elderly, offices and an 80,000-square-foot village center around a lake.

Florida Rock is meeting with community groups, trying to ease their concerns.

"We have no objections to the plans per se," said Elliot Lewis, president of the Smith-Greenspring Association, which represents 1,900 homeowners. "We have some major concerns about traffic on Greenspring Avenue. It's horrible, and the Beltway interchange is horrible."

The 1984 development pact "is a good framework to work with, but you have to look at all the other ramifications," Lewis said.

But Hoffman says his client bought the quarry sites based on the number of homes that could be built under the agreement.

"We relied on that approval, and to our great detriment performed our side of the agreement," Hoffman said, referring to changes the company made to scale back its quarry operation. "If this law passes, we would challenge the application of this law."

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