Oella Mill developer seeks review process exemption

With waiver, hearing would not be held

move angers residents

January 07, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Developers planning to turn the historic Oella Mill into upscale apartments are seeking a waiver to Baltimore County's development review process that would exempt them from holding a community input meeting.

Community activists are angry that Forest City Residential Group, a Cleveland-based developer, is asking the county for a "limited exemption" that would also allow them to circumvent a hearing before a county zoning commissioner.

In November, Forest City announced plans to turn the 19th-century mill at 840 Oella Ave., an eclectic emporium of art and antiques dealers, into apartments that would command rents of $1,400 to $3,000 per month.

Some residents in the small community have expressed concern about the plan, particularly about the prospect of increased traffic on narrow roads. Though the community met with the developer informally two months ago, residents say their concerns should be heard during the formal development review process.

"They should have to go through the process just like everybody else. There shouldn't be a special exception," said Jay Patel, president of the Greater Oella Community Association. "This is a 170-year-old issue to us."

Forest City is asking for the exemption, saying that the redevelopment will have no impact on county amenities, such as water and sewer hookups. Getting the exemption could quicken the redevelopment plans by eight weeks, a lawyer for the developer said.

"The exemption will save us time. That's the bottom line," said Robert A. Hoffman of Towson, who represents Forest City.

Hoffman noted that the development group sought comment from the community two months ago by holding a town meeting in which residents could voice concerns about the project.

"We tried to reach out to the community, to do it in advance," Hoffman said.

Some in the community were angry about the earlier meeting in light of the developers seeking the exemption.

"They promised to work with the community, then they seek a waiver," said resident Alan Stubbs. "I think it speaks volumes."

A hearing before the county's Development Review Committee is set for 1:30 p.m. today in Room 123 of the County Office Building, 111 W. Chesapeake Ave., Towson. A similar meeting that had been scheduled for Dec. 31 was postponed.

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