Community group splits over condo proposal

Debate, tension linger in Bowleys Quarters

January 21, 2008|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

Bill Lagna doesn't feel he's leading a coup.

As the first president of a community group created in the wake of a divisive plan to build condominiums at a weathered marina in Bowleys Quarters, Lagna says the goal is to unify residents on the eastern Baltimore County peninsula.

"The intent of the group is to try to come up with acceptable developments that will fit in with the general theme of the existing neighborhood," says Lagna, president of the new Bowleys Quarters Community Association. "We would like community input and to listen to the entire community - for and against any issue."

There is still some debate - and lingering tension - in the neighborhood about the condo proposal that last year became so intense that some residents called for the impeachment of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association president.

And, Lagna says, even now, not everyone agrees about the Galloway Creek condos.

"There are many opinions in the group at this time," says Lagna, who has lived in Bowleys Quarters since 1985, and whose family has owned a summer house there for more than 50 years.

Milt Rehbein, owner of the Galloway Creek Marina, first proposed to build a 36-unit condo building in late 2006.

Zoning for Rehbein's property would allow 22 homes to be built, so he applied for a "planned unit development," or PUD - a designation that, while subjecting the plans to public hearings, eliminates certain zoning rules if the project is deemed a community benefit.

When Rehbein presented the plan to the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association in April 2006, the members voted to support the project: 75 in favor of the condos, 25 against, 1 undecided.

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

But based on the improvement association's support, Joseph Bartenfelder, the county councilman whose east-side district includes Bowleys Quarters, introduced the marina condo project as a PUD, which was passed by the County Council in September.

But that didn't settle the issue in the community. Instead, neighbors started writing "No condos" on poster board and staking the signs in their yards.

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

They say it would look nicer than the outdated buildings on the property. Some residents say that they like the idea of being able to remain in the waterfront community but not have the maintenance of a home.

Opponents worry about traffic congestion and fear the building could dwarf the houses along the water.

And they say the condo project conflicts with the community plan and could set a precedent for other marina owners to sell to developers - changing the atmosphere of a place where there are still more boatyards than stop lights.

Others in the community were upset about how the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association handled the debate about the project. Several called for the impeachment of Mike Vivirito, president of the organization.

In October, the community hall was so packed for the impeachment vote - seen as a referendum on the condo plan - that the meeting was postponed because attendance exceeded the hall's capacity.

But in subsequent meetings, community leaders deemed that there were no grounds to impeach the group president.

Vivirito declined to comment on the attempts to impeach him, saying: "Instead I want to stay focused on the future of our community and how we can improve the quality of life in Bowleys Quarters."

About a dozen members most critical of the condos and the association's handling of the project were told their membership in the improvement association was revoked for a year, said Janet Walpert, one of those shunned.

The residents were later told the board would reconsider the action, Walpert said.

But by then, the new Bowleys Quarters Community Association was forming, with articles of incorporation, bylaws and a Web site: www.bqca.org. The first membership meeting is this week.

When asked about the new community group, Vivirito read a statement: "We hope that as time goes on, we'll find a way to work together for the benefit of the whole community.

"Until that time, the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association will continue its mission with the same dedication, effectiveness and service it's given for over 70 years."

Lagna was elected at a recent organizational meeting as community association president, in part because he was not among those involved in the fracas, he and other residents say.

"With the stress and strain within the community, something had to be done to be more unified," Lagna says.

Beyond the condo project, which is making its way through the county development process, there are other issues that the new group needs to address, such as the PUD regulations and the rezoning process in the county, Lagna says.

The first membership meeting of the Bowleys Quarters Community Association will be 7 p.m. tomorrow at St. Matthew Lutheran Church at 3620 Red Rose Farm Road.

The Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of the month at its hall, 1124 Bowleys Quarters Road.

County development officials have scheduled a community input meeting on the Galloway Creek condo project. It will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 13 in Room J-137 of the administration building at the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, 7201 Rossville Blvd.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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