Controversial Roland Park apartments head to City Council for vote

Plans for a 148-unit apartment building in North Roland Park are headed to the City Council Monday, despite ongoing protest from neighbors.

The City Council will be voting on whether to approve Pikesville-based Blue Ocean Realty's planned unit development proposal for a six-story, 75-foot-tall apartment building behind the Belvedere Towers, near the junction of Falls Road and Northern Parkway.

The project has won support from two neighborhood associations that represent North Roland Park and nearby Poplar Hill, with an agreement intended to curb new traffic on residential streets and prevent the development from encroaching on nearby homes.

"There was nothing we could do to stop the developer," said Susan Joslow, president of the Poplar Hill Association, "so we just wanted to get the best deal we could."

But the deal hasn't satisfied everyone. A group of neighbors say the agreement doesn't sufficiently limit the building's height or address increased traffic. They want the project to adhere to new zoning codes that took effect June 5 that would limit the building's height to 35 feet, unless granted a waiver by the city.

"We want to see the mayor not sign the bill and ask the developer go through a regular development process, the regular building permit process," said Hunter Cochrane, who lives in North Roland Park.

Permits and plans submitted before the new zoning code — including Blue Ocean's planned unit development, if approved — are grandfathered under the old zoning rules that do not include a height limit.

Unlike routine permit applications, a planned unit development requires approval from the City Council. Any changes to the development plan require approval from the planning commission or City Council, depending on how significant they are, according to city code.

Al Barry, a consultant representing Blue Ocean, said the developer sought a planned unit development agreement as a way to include the community.

"The developer's intentions were sincere in having a way for the city to be incorporated in all these agreements," Barry said.

Original plans called for a seven-story building with two levels of parking. The project was scaled back to six stories based on neighbors' concerns about height and traffic, Barry said.

Six acres of the 12-acre property will be conserved as green space to provide more of a buffer to neighbors.

"Everything with this project is being done by the book and is minimizing the impact on the community," said Baltimore City Councilman Isaac "Yitzy" Schleifer, who represents the area. "This should be a poster child for what responsible development looks like."

Some neighbors don't see it that way.

Mary Ann Mears, who lives in Poplar Hill, said she thinks Blue Ocean is pursuing the project through a planned unit development agreement as a way to skirt the new zoning code.

"A public policy was worked on over many, many years, and when it's about to come into play the City Council says, well, not in this case," Mears said.

The Lehr Stream Neighborhood Association, a neighborhood group formed in opposition of the project, says the other neighborhood groups didn't do enough to include residents in negotiations with the developer.

The group has collected what Cochrane called "declarations" opposing the plan from about 200 households.

Joslow, the president of the Poplar Hill Association, said her neighborhood group shared information with neighbors who expressed an interest. The board thought it was important to make a deal with the developer, who has the right to build without the neighborhood's input, and didn't have time to hold a meeting before voting on the agreement, she said.

Shelley Sehnert, president of the North Roland Park Association, declined to comment.

Despite the group's concerns, the City Council is expected to vote on whether to approve the plan on Monday.

Even if approved, construction is at least a year away, Barry said.

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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