Project hinges on city, rezoning

Beidle wants Baltimore to sell tract so development can move forward

September 25, 2005|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

The clock is ticking for the Anne Arundel County Council to pass comprehensive zoning changes in Brooklyn Park, but Baltimore doesn't seem to be in a hurry to accommodate its neighbor to the south.

For years the city has thought about selling a 98-acre parcel within the county that it owns. A potential buyer, Charles County developer Stephen P. McAllister, wants to incorporate that land into his plans to remake the barren, industrial area with at least 1,200 condominiums and townhouses.

County Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn Park, has long supported McAllister's efforts to begin remaking barren parcels amid some of the last industrial strongholds in the Baltimore area and bring much-needed affordable housing to the county.

Before that can happen, the County Council must approve the rezoning of more than 100 acres of industrial land, contaminated and long deserted, that McAllister owns.

About 50 days remain until the rezoning bill for Brooklyn Park and Glen Burnie expires. Beidle wants the council to pass the bill before that deadline to ensure that dozens of parcels throughout Brooklyn Park -- including McAllister's acres as well the city-owned land -- are rezoned. This plan has been in the works for five years.

But the city wants the county to delay rezoning as it decides who to sell the parcel to. Beidle wants the city to make a decision quickly, so that McAllister can develop final plans -- with or without that parcel.

The council is in the homestretch of a comprehensive zoning process that started in 1997. County officials hope to finish rezoning all 16 sections of the county by the end of the year.

The fear of not finishing the rezoning of Brooklyn Park and Glen Burnie came loud and clear from Beidle on Monday night, when Baltimore real estate officer Mike McAvinn asked the county to wait at least a month to vote on the rezoning of Brooklyn Park and Glen Burnie.

McAvinn said that the city is "eager to dispose of the property" but wants to organize a community meeting before selling the property.

"You need to do this -- like speed," Beidle said. "You are talking about one parcel. I'm talking about five years of planning."

Responding to McAvinn's comments, Beidle said Friday that she has asked city and state officials to testify at the next council meeting Oct. 4 to clarify Baltimore's position. But no matter what the city does, Beidle said the uncertainty over the 98 acres will not derail getting the zoning package approved.

Beidle said she had hoped the city would have sold the property before now so that the new owner could be aware of the potential zoning changes.

McAvinn said the city has received multiple offers to buy the 98 acres, but he only named McAllister at the council meeting Monday. McAvinn did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday, and a city spokesman was unable to elaborate.

"I hope we get it. We are a strong competitor for that land," McAllister told the council.

McAllister's project, currently proposed over 170 acres, has been four years in the making. Along with townhouses and condos, McAllister wants to develop a community center with a day care facility and supermarket. He also wants to add walking trails and a tot lot.

He said he's willing to sacrifice some profit to make the properties affordably priced. He's hoping to break ground in two years, selling condos in the $200,000 range and townhouses in the $300,000 range. He also wants to intersperse smaller townhouses throughout the development.

"I absolutely know the surrounding community supports this development, on the county side and the city side," said Beidle, who said another hearing by the city would be "redundant." She said she hoped that city officials would learn all they need to know by attending the next County Council session.

But not everyone is supportive of the project near Curtis Bay, which is home to several industrial sites near the port of Baltimore. Workers in the area are afraid that a large number of new homes would force their employers to move. Longtime residents fear a potential tax increase, as more county services -- such as schools, law enforcement and fire protection -- could be needed.

More than 30 people testified against accommodating McAllister in the rezoning package Monday night. Some of them supported a smaller development.

During the meeting, council members were presented a letter from state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, who cautioned the county against rezoning the industrial land. In a letter to County Executive Janet S. Owens dated Aug. 15, Flanagan wrote that the state has a multibillion-dollar investment in the port of Baltimore "and a distribution network that supports movement in and around port facilities. ... Should rezoning proceed, we recommend that all reasonable efforts be made to buffer incompatible land uses."

McAllister has said he would provide at least a 1,000-foot buffer for the homes.

Beidle said the industrial land in question has remained vacant for too long and that it should be put to better use.

"We all know that the area is changing," she said. "I'm not certain we will need to have as much industry."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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