Hunt Valley site OK'd for completion

Developer, Masons settle suit over housing complex

July 06, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Pikesville developer has cleared the last legal hurdle blocking plans for a complex of almost 400 apartments and townhouses on one of the most visible tracts open to development in northern Baltimore County: a 17-acre parcel along Interstate 83 near Hunt Valley Mall.

Highpointe is under construction off the 200 block of International Circle, just west of the mall. Plans call for 321 apartments and 68 townhouses.

The project's developers settled a suit to block completion of the project on June 20. The suit, filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court by the Grand Masonic Lodge, which owns a retirement and nursing home north of the site, argued that the project violated covenants restricting the height and location of buildings on the site.

"The matter has been settled and settled amicably - that's all I can say about it," said Stephen M. Gorn, president of Highpointe Associates, which is developing the site.

Gorn declined to discuss details of the project.

But according to records filed with Baltimore County zoning officials and in Circuit Court, plans call for construction of a complex of three-story apartments and rental townhouses around a swimming pool, clubhouse, a conference center with a theater and 781 parking spaces.

Each townhouse will include a garage, each apartment will have two parking spaces and use of the clubhouse would be "limited to residents and their guests," according to plans Highpointe submitted to county zoning officials last year.

John B. Colvin, a Pikesville builder who is senior vice president of Highpointe, told county officials that he expects rents to range from $1,500 to $2,250 per month, according to county records. Two-bedroom apartments in the partially completed complex rent for $1,825 per month, according to company officials.

"They intend to market this as being a high-end income kind of development," said Jeff Long, a Baltimore County planner.

County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, said the project will be one of only a few residential communities in a commercial corridor and will serve retirees and business executives temporarily assigned to Hunt Valley.

"Hunt Valley is virtually an international center; there are people from all over the world working there," said McIntire, a Republican from Glyndon. "The idea is for people to have a place to stay who are working in Hunt Valley and are there too long for a hotel stay but not long enough for a long-term lease."

Rezoning bid approved

But J. Lee Bishop, president of the Greater Sparks-Glencoe Community Council, said the project will bring unwanted growth to an area that should be preserved as open space.

"That is going to be a high-intensity, high concentration of people right on the rim of a rural conservation area, which we're trying to protect from development," said Bishop, a Hereford insurance agent.

The County Council approved Highpointe's request to rezone the tract from industrial to residential after a public hearing Oct. 10, 2000. The site plans, which specify the location and size of each building in the complex, were approved by county zoning officials last August, records show.

But after county officials approved the project, it met with stiff resistance from theGrand Masonic Lodge.

The lodge filed suit Feb. 11 to prevent the project from being completed as planned, arguing that the plans violated covenants created when the Masons sold the property to a previous owner in 1980.

The covenants limited building height on the hilly, elevated tract. They also barred any construction within 200 feet of the boundary line with the Maryland Masonic Homes, which is also known as Bonnie Blink.

Highpointe's plans violated both the height and boundary restrictions, according to an affidavit in the court file signed by a mechanical engineer who reviewed the plans for the lodge.

Highpointe lawyers never denied the violations. But they told Circuit Judge Susan M. Souder at a pretrial hearing May 30 that the building restrictions created in 1980 are no longer necessary because the area has been so intensely developed.

"Where there were once empty fields, there are now shopping centers, hotels and office buildings," Thomas F. McDonough, a Highpointe lawyer, wrote in legal motions submitted to Souder.

Masons get $300,000

The settlement agreement reached June 20 specifies that Highpointe's buildings may exceed the 500-foot height restriction and that a pool and bathhouse may be built in the area where the covenants had prohibited construction.

Highpointe, in exchange, agreed to pay the Masons $300,000, according to court records.

Calvin Jenkins, a lawyer for the Masons, said the settlement meant avoiding a lengthy trial.

"We were ready to go to battle over this," he said. "We were ready to try this case."

But as construction work at the site continued this week, Bishop said he worries that the project will open the door to more development in the area. The proximity of I-83 makes the site - and others like it in northern Baltimore County - inevitable targets for development, he said.

"Sometimes, it's like standing in the middle of some railroad tracks and watching a locomotive bear down on you at 80 miles an hour and asking for it to stop," he said.

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