N. Baltimore project scaled back

19 single-family homes proposed

earlier plan included 30 homes

February 18, 2000

Thwarted by community opposition to its efforts to build semidetached and single-family homes, a developer has drawn up a new plan for 9 wooded acres in North Baltimore.

The proposal by Struever Rouse Homes calls for 19 single-family homes starting at $295,000 near Falls Road and Lake Avenue, just south of the city-county line on one of the city's most desirable undeveloped tracts.

Unlike the previous plan for 30 units, which would have required legislation to allow 12 semidetached homes, the new proposal needs no City Council action because the property is zoned for single-family residential use.

The new plan is subject to approval by the city's Planning Commission, which reviews subdivision and development plans. It also could face scrutiny by the city's zoning board for changes from zoning laws, such as the distance between the houses and a road to be built through the development.

"The community won," said Northwest Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, whose district includes the property. "They said if the developer came in with what the zoning permits, it wouldn't be a problem."

"It's a wonderful situation," said Spector, the council's representative on the planning panel. "People want new homes in Baltimore City, and this development helps meet that need."

Not everyone in the neighborhoods surrounding the property is rushing to embrace the plan.

Meme Thomas, president of the Lake Falls South Community Association, acknowledges that the new plan is an "improvement" over the previous proposal, but says that she has concerns about the project.

Those concerns include the fate of four historic residences on the property, the flow of traffic off a narrow road and the effect of development on the environment.

"There's flood-plain issues, there's wetlands issues," said Thomas, who acknowledged that her preference would be for the land to remain undeveloped. "The whole site is on easily erodible soil. It's a very difficult site to develop," she said.

It was the community association's disapproval last fall that derailed Struever Rouse Homes' first plan for semidetached and single-family units.

The project had been vehemently opposed by community groups since it was announced in late spring. The groups feared additional traffic on heavily traveled roads and felt that the development was out of character with the surrounding area, which includes vestiges of an old mill town on one side and homes valued at more than $400,000 on another.

Reduction

In response to the concerns, Struever Rouse Homes -- an affiliate of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, an urban development company -- cut the number of units in its proposal from 40 to 30, including a reduction from 21 to 12 in the number of semidetached homes.

When Lake Falls South residents voted against the project by a margin of almost 2-1 in a door-to-door vote in late September, Spector and her 5th District colleagues declined to introduce the legislation needed to allow the development, pointing to lack of community support.

Officials at Struever Rouse Homes -- which developed the last phase of Homeland East townhomes and the Woodlands, both in North Baltimore -- went back to the drawing board and came up with the current proposal.

"We see this as a win for the community, a win for the city and a win for us as developers," said project director Sandy Marenberg.

`Environmentally respectful'

With 19 homes, the impact on traffic should be minimal, Marenberg said, adding that development would be concentrated on about half of the site, with the remaining half kept as woodlands. The undeveloped property would be preserved in a trust to be controlled by a homeowners association.

"We've always said we were environmentally respectful of this site," Marenberg said.

Because of its proximity to light rail lines and the Mount Washington shopping district, and adequate power and sewer lines, Marenberg said, the project would be a model of Smart Growth. He said it would generate about $150,000 a year in city property taxes.

"This part of Baltimore appears to appeal to people looking to relocate to the city," Marenberg said.

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