Hunt Valley condo plan upsets area residents

Developer seeks OK for nine-story, 218-unit building


A plan to build a nine-story condominium building at Hunt Valley Towne Centre has some residents upset about the size of the project - and with the process being used to review the proposal.

Wood Partners, a Vienna, Va.-based developer, wants to build 218 condo units with about 450 parking spaces at the northeastern edge of the 85-acre shopping complex that has replaced the demolished, enclosed Hunt Valley Mall.

Some residents are concerned about additional traffic from the condos and say that the large building will ruin the character of the area. They also are appealing the county's decision to allow the proposal to be considered a "refinement" to a 1979 plan for the mall, which means the application would not have to go through the full development process.

Although it's normally an advisory body, the Baltimore County Planning Board will act as jury when it decides whether to approve the project, under procedures that were in place when the development plan was first approved for the mall, said Jeff Long, deputy director of the Office of Planning.

The Planning Board is scheduled to hear a more detailed plan from the developers at its meeting April 6. A vote could be taken immediately or deferred to the next meeting April 20, Long said.

The board heard from lawyers representing residents opposed to the project and lawyers representing the developer at a meeting March 2.

"From a planning perspective, we encourage mixed use," said Long. "We feel this would enhance the town center. In fact, we would've liked to have seen residences above the stores."

Long also said county planners hope traffic problems would be lessened by condominium residents using the nearby light rail to get to work and walking to the town center's shops and restaurants.

Robert A. Hoffman, one of the lawyers representing Wood Partners, said the condos would be in keeping with the developments around it.

"Across the street, you have the business park," Hoffman said.

"Up the hill, you have the Loveton business park and condos and townhomes. I think this is absolutely the right location for it."

The property, between Interstate 83 and York Road along Shawan Road, was zoned for a town center in 2004.

Some residents say they don't object to residences being built at the location but they do to the size of the building proposed.

"It's out of scale with what is around it. It's an intrusion on the beauty of the area," said Richard Compton, executive director of Broadmead retirement community. "We're not opposed to a residential development. We're just asking that the development be reasonable and respectful of the rural character of the area."

Compton said residents are also concerned about increased traffic on roads that are already clogged.

Nedda Evans, president of the Sparks Glencoe Community Planning Council, said: "At that location, there's already gridlock. We'd like to see the infrastructure problem addressed before the traffic situation is exacerbated. ... It impacts the quality of life when you add traffic upon traffic."

She and others also object to the county's decision not to require the project to go through a full development review - an issue that has prompted recent county legislation.

The County Council recently passed legislation that would give property owners four years to begin building houses after development plans are approved - and force those who haven't begun to start over in the approval process.

The law is intended to require property owners to comply with current regulations, such as limits on building height, and requirements in the current approval process such as public hearings. The bill does not apply to commercial developments.

"In our view, a nine-story condominium community is not a minor refinement," Evans said.

The development plan for the site first approved in 1979 has been revised seven times, most recently in September. Under earlier revisions, Greenberg Gibbons Commercial Corp. developed the 891,000-square-foot, town center with a Main Street-style promenade of restaurants and stores, including a Wegmans Food Market, in addition to the pre-existing Wal-Mart, Sears and a 12-screen movie theater.

The county's decision to allow the condominiums to be approved as a change to the decades-old development plan is to be reviewed by the county Board of Appeals.

The first appeal hearing, originally set for February, has not been rescheduled.

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