Recreation center wrangling continues

Residents, sports organization clash over complex

December 22, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

When a lawyer for residents opposed to a new housing development in northern Baltimore County started ticking off areas of concern yesterday during a hearing, he didn't stop for five minutes.

Storm water management. Open space requirements. Master plan conflict. School impact. Traffic. Noise.

But, the main problem with the proposal to build 19 houses off Middletown Road in the Freeland area is the planned, adjacent recreational complex, according to a lawyer for opponents of the plan.

The complex, which would include a 32,000-square-foot indoor arena, six fields and nearly 600 parking spaces, is being donated by the developer for use by local sports leagues.

The size and location of the complex - five miles from Interstate 83 in a rural area - has prompted a clash between a community association and a local sports organization.

The lawyer representing opponents, J. Carroll Holzer, has also requested - and been denied - an opportunity to question County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and Councilman T. Bryan McIntire about whether the county intends to maintain the complex and whether the zoning designation for the area was modified in exchange for the sports fields.

Donald I. Mohler III, a spokesman for the county, said that county officials are exempt from having to testify at such proceedings.

Mohler also said that the county is no longer being asked to help build the recreational complex. The land for the sports complex would be donated to the local recreational council. If the complex meets county requirements, the county would maintain the complex once it's built, Mohler said.

Dr. Barbara A. Cochran, a local internist who has agreed to preserve her nearby land from development, said, "If the fields are needed, the county ought to find a more central location. ... It's disheartening to those of us who have worked to preserve agricultural land to lose more than 100 acres of farmland."

But those involved with the Hereford Recreational Council also crowded the hearing room yesterday, to show support for the project. Deputy Zoning Commissioner John V. Murphy is scheduled to hear more testimony about the development proposal Jan. 18.

"We're trying to fulfill a need and give back to the community a little," said Randy Shelley, the owner of the 153.8-acre parcel about five miles east of Interstate 83.

He estimates that more than 1,000 children will use the fields each year.

"We need a park," Shelley said. "I'm stepping up, and nobody else has."

When Shelley purchased the option to buy the 132 acres between Middletown and Cotter roads, he offered to give 100 acres to the Hereford Zone Recreation Council if he could build 19 houses - nine more than the zoning then in place allowed - on a portion of the property. Shelley also offered a portion of his profits on the housing development to go toward building the recreation complex. The recreation council would raise money to cover the rest of the building costs.

"There are no recreational facilities in the north county area," said Howard L. Alderman Jr., an attorney for Shelley Middletown Road Holdings LLC. "The county has, for years, been trying to find the land, but with the price of land what it is, it's been cost prohibitive. This is an opportunity for the Hereford zone to receive, at no cost, the land."

The zoning designation for the area was changed in 2004 as part of the comprehensive zoning map process. McIntire, a Republican who represents the area said last year that he had never before agreed to a zoning change allowing more houses to be built on rural "resource conservation" land, but that he did it in this instance for the area's youngsters.

But he and Robert J. Barrett, county recreation and park director, said that the scale of the recreational complex increased since they initially agreed the recreational complex was a good idea.

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