Development plans have residents worried

Pikesville proposals raise fears of crowding

Regional

December 29, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Plans to build two residential developments on large tracts in Pikesville -- one a former country club, the other part of a cemetery -- have sparked worries among community members about the cumulative effect of so much construction in an older community.

The larger of the two proposals would put 355 single-family homes on the site of Bonnie View Country Club, a 160-acre tract that straddles the city-county line just east of Old Pimlico Road. Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt ruled this month in favor of the developer, Beazer Homes, despite community objections that the property is historic and should be preserved as open space.

J. Carroll Holzer, an attorney representing the communities, said his clients will appeal the decision.

The smaller development would place 58 semidetached homes on a 38-acre parcel in Druid Ridge Cemetery next to Park Heights Avenue, between the Baltimore Beltway and Autumn Drive.

The community and the developer, David S. Brown Enterprises, argued in Circuit Court last month about whether the county was correct in permitting a lot line adjustment that would allow the developer to build on the tract without going through subdivision hearings.

Community members are concerned about the environmental effects of the development, which would be built in an area where residents complain of poor drainage and flooding.

Because most of Baltimore County is designated rural land, the number of developable lots in urban areas is dwindling. Planners have focused more and more in recent years on small-scale infill projects because so few large open tracts remain.

In Pikesville, residents are having difficulty coping with the prospect of not just these two projects, but also a proposed development that would convert a 270-acre quarry west of Greenspring Avenue and south of Old Court Road into an office, commercial and residential complex that is expected to add nearly 600 homes to the area.

"The Pikesville area is a very nice residential area. There's a lot of trees, and people like the greenery and they don't want to see development being put in on an overcrowded basis," said Neville Jacobs, president of the Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition.

Congestion and the loss of open space are the main concerns of residents near Bonnie View. Not only are neighbors worried about traffic congestion, they also are concerned about whether an adequate buffer would remain between the new development and surrounding neighborhoods, Holzer said.

"It's not going to be compatible," he said.

Holzer said the appeal will focus on two issues. First, he said, his clients believe that because the property is listed on the Maryland Historical Trust inventory, it merits protection from development, although it is not part of the county's historical landmarks list. Second, part of the county's Master Plan says the county should consider acquiring the Bonnie View property as open space or parkland if it ceases to be used as a golf course.

Robert A. Hoffman, the attorney who represents the builder, Beazer Homes, said he disagrees with the notion that listing on the Maryland Historic Trust inventory conveys county protection. But regardless, Hoffman said, Schmidt, the zoning commissioner, granted the developer a waiver on the preservation question.

Hoffman added that Planning Director Arnold F. Keller III checked with the county's Parks and Recreation Department to see whether it were interested in acquiring Bonnie View. Because the county did not express interest in purchasing the property, no conflict exists with the Master Plan, Hoffman said.

As for the question of the project's density, Hoffman said the developer could have proposed more than 500 units on the site but chose a 355-home development.

Beazer is pursuing another proposal at Bonnie View: high-density housing for people older than age 55, an idea that neighbors have opposed more strongly than the single-family home plan. That proposal is scheduled to go before the Planning Board in February.

Traffic and compatibility are concerns near Druid Ridge, as well, but the major worry is the effect that more houses will have on storm water management.

"Areas like Dumbarton and Suburban Country Club already have water problems," said Alan P. Zuckerberg, director of the Long Meadow Association and an opponent of the proposal. "This land just doesn't do well with water."

The Druid Ridge land is separated into two parcels, one of which is a 17-acre strip on the cemetery's northern border. To develop a 38-acre lot under consideration, the cemetery asked for and was granted a lot line adjustment that would allow it to develop that part of its land without having to subdivide it.

"How they could call this a lot line adjustment by the common meaning of the words is beyond me," Zuckerberg said.

Hoffman, who also represents the developer of Druid Ridge, said the project would include a storm water management system that should help alleviate flooding problems in the area.

Hoffman said the lot line adjustment is within the property owner's rights and will not diminish public input or circumvent the regular development process.

"The lot line adjustment doesn't mean we don't have to go through the full development approval process on all issues like runoff and the number of units," Hoffman said. "Are we talking about lot line adjustments because that's what's really important in this case? I don't know. Or are talking about them because it's something to argue about?"

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