Condo plan splits Bowleys Quarters

Residents wrangle over proposal for east county marina

October 11, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

People in Bowleys Quarters say Milton Rehbein is easy to like.

He's a native of the tight-knit shore community in eastern Baltimore County. And he put in or rebuilt just about everyone's pier or bulkhead.

But his plan to turn the old family marina into upscale condominiums has divided a waterfront hamlet still coming to terms with change in the aftermath of a punishing tropical storm.

How strong are feelings running in Bowleys Quarters? The local community association has endorsed the proposal - and opponents say they will push to impeach the group's president at what is expected to be a stormy meeting tonight.

"It will change the whole complexion of the place," Janet Walpert, a 26-year Bowleys Quarters resident, said of the plan for the marina, which would require the waiving of zoning regulations. "If the law is changed for one, what's to stop the next development? It sets a precedent."

Some local residents say the project proposed for Galloway Creek Marina has sparked more debate than any of the building projects launched in Bowleys Quarters since Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003. Hundreds of houses were severely damaged or destroyed, according to Baltimore County. Many of the cottages and shore shacks that characterized the peninsula were replaced with much larger, taller and more expensive homes.

Supporters of Rehbein's plan say it would be a worthy addition to the area.

"Some people don't want any kind of change," said Charles Marek, a doctor whose family has owned a home on Bay Drive since 1929. "I see it as a way of improving the neighborhood. I don't think there will be as many cars as there are coming and going from a marina."

Still, opponents worry about traffic problems, and signs reading "No condos" are posted in yards. They see no need to change a community plan - written and revised over the decades - that calls for single-family homes along the waterfront.

Settled in 1715 by a shipwrecked English captain, Daniel Bowley, the wooded waterfront peninsula was owned in large part by a duck-hunting club at the turn of the 20th century, according to historians. By the 1920s, shore homes were being built by families from Baltimore as weekend and summer retreats. During World War II, when the area defense industry flourished, more families lived in Bowleys Quarters year-round, according to residents.

Bowleys Quarters, bound on three sides by Galloway Creek, Seneca Creek and the Chesapeake Bay, still has more marinas - about a dozen - than stop lights.

Two local farmers sell produce from the roadside. A volunteer fire company sits at the V in the road, offering bingo nights and oyster roasts.

Residents watch sunsets from their waterfront decks and ride bikes past tall marsh grass.

"It's like living on vacation," says Kim Sullivan, one of the residents opposed to the condo project.

The area is outside Baltimore County's urban-rural demarcation line, the boundary created in 1967 to control development. But because so many septic systems were failing in Bowleys Quarters, the public sewer system was extended to about 1,100 houses in the area beginning in 1996, according to county public works officials.

The big change for Bowleys Quarters, according to residents, came in September 2003, with the floods accompanying Isabel. When the water receded, hundreds of homes were damaged, forcing residents to rebuild, with elevated homes, or move.

"Isabel changed the face of this neighborhood," said Rehbein, 49, owner of the Galloway Creek Marina. "Look at the size of the homes now."

He said he considered remodeling his 188-slip marina in the aftermath of Isabel. But as he weighed options, he said, his immediate neighbors supported the idea of condominiums.

"I couldn't believe how many people were looking for something like this - a place on the water without the maintenance of a house," said Rehbein, who declines to say which developer would be his partner in the project. "I thought it'd be neat - something different."

His plan is for a four-story building, with parking for 51 cars on the first level. The existing house and storage building, along with most of the boat slips, would be removed, leaving one slip for each of the 36 planned condo units. Development rights for the 12 acres on the east side of Burke Road would be given to a conservation group, said Rehbein.

Current zoning for Rehbein's property would allow 22 homes to be built, according to his application for a Planned Unit Development, or PUD.

Rehbein took his plan to the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association in April 2006. Afterwards, the members voted: 75 in favor of the condo project, 25 against, 1 undecided.

"It would be an upgrade to what's there now," said Michael Hepner, a longtime Bowleys Quarters resident. "I think the vote was fairly representative. ... This impeachment, it's ridiculous."

But some residents say that the project - and what was at stake - was not clear during that meeting.

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