Sparrows Point Country Club seeks to shrink course, add 300 houses

A Dundalk country club that’s been in business for nearly 100 years is planning to eliminate one-third of its golf course to make room for more than 300 townhouses, detached homes and villas on its waterfront property.

Citing the financial strain of declining membership, Sparrows Point Country Club is asking Baltimore County for approval to build the homes to keep the club afloat — and take advantage of the area’s resurgence stemming from development of the Tradepoint Atlantic industrial campus.

Joe Roux, the country club’s general manager, said it is grappling with financial challenges also faced by other clubs. Selling off some land for development will bring an infusion of cash that can be used to upgrade the facilities.

“It’s the same issues all country clubs are dealing with,” said Roux, who joined the club this summer. “Finding ways to upgrade your facilities to attract new members and finding ways to do that without raising dues and assessments.”

The club started exploring the idea of residential development more than a decade ago, but planning stalled after the economic downturn of 2008.

In 2012, the club had part of the property rezoned to accommodate about 210 homes. Additional approval is needed now because the new plan proposes 312 homes, according to documents filed with the county.

Club members say they are motivated by the burgeoning success of Tradepoint Atlantic, which is located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel mill at Sparrows Point. Officials of the steel company founded the country club back in the 1920s.

The club moved to its current location on Wise Avenue in Dundalk in 1954. In 1985, Bethlehem Steel sold the club to its members and non-mill employees were allowed to join for the first time.

“When Tradepoint Atlantic took over the old Sparrows Point plant and they were looking at creating all those new jobs, we realized it was an opportunity for the development — for people to buy new houses and for the club itself to get new members,” said Ron Belbot, a Middle River resident who is president of the club’s board of directors.

Tradepoint bought the shuttered steel mill property in 2013, and has demolished much of the old mill structures. They’ve been replaced by tenants such as a FedEx sorting center, a vehicle importing operation run by Pasha Automotive and a soon-to-open Under Armour warehouse for online order fulfillment. Last week Amazon formally announced plans to build a 1,500-employee warehouse at Tradepoint.

Officials with the country club say they met with about 20 potential developers and builders before settling on Craftsmen Development of Glen Burnie. The club and Craftsmen have entered into a partnership for the project, but the terms have not been disclosed.

Belbot said the development will buoy the country club’s finances and allow the club to make upgrades that will attract more families to join.

“The place was built in the ’50s and it really had not been updated,” said Belbot, who is a Bethlehem Steel retiree. “It needed an awful lot of capital improvements to the point it would not reasonably ever be paid for by the membership.”

The development, Country Club Estates, would include townhouses along the front of the property on Wise Avenue, with detached homes spreading around the golf course toward Bear Creek.

The development would include 193 townhouses with garages, 66 detached homes and 53 waterfront villas.

Nine of the club’s 27 holes of golf would be eliminated to make room for the homes, leaving an 18-hole course. The club’s marina and boat slips, pool and clubhouse would remain. Belbot said it was a difficult, but necessary, decision to downsize the course.

About 75 acres of the 195-acre property would be developed.

Conor Gilligan, vice president of land management for Craftsmen Developers, said the homes will be marketed to a variety of buyers, from young couples to retirees. The villas will be on a gated road and will be marketed to seniors, he said.

Home prices could start in the upper $200,000s for townhomes to more than $600,000 for single-family homes with golf course and water views. Homeowners would become members of the country club through the homeowners’ association.

Gilligan said there’s a shortage of new homes in Dundalk area, especially as revitalization efforts are underway.

“You think of all the activity on the business side of Tradepoint Atlantic, and there needs to be complementary housing stock to go with all of these new jobs,” he said.

The country club property is governed by a mishmash of zoning classifications, including residential, business, industrial and resource conservation.

The club is asking the Baltimore County Council to allow the project to go through the county’s planned-use development process — which would allow a greater number of units in exchange for a project that offers benefits to the community.

As part of the community benefit provision, Craftsmen Developers is pledging to spend $100,000 on projects in the Dundalk-Sparrows Point area. The proposals include contributing to an effort to relocate the Aquila Randall Monument, which commemorates a Maryland Militia member who was killed in the War of 1812. The 200-year-old monument, located on the side of North Point Road in Dundalk, is believed to be the among the oldest military monuments in the country.

Other community benefit proposals include adding community signs in North Point Village, installing kayak launches at Battle Grove Park and the Edgemere Senior Center, extending water service to the Todd’s Inheritance historic site and improving stormwater controls around the country club.

Now that the planned-unit development application has been filed, a community input meeting will be scheduled.

After that, the next step would be for the the County Council to pass a resolution in support of the project, which would allow it to continue through the approval process. The decision of whether to consider such a resolution rests with Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican who represents the area.

Crandell said he supports the general concept of the country club’s plan.

“Having a high-end residential community with houses as much as half a million dollars or more is a huge shot in the arm,” he said. “We’re talking about a golf course community with a marina and a restaurant, all on the water. To me, it’s a great opportunity for Dundalk.”

In addition to needing county approvals, the development would need approvals from the state’s Critical Area Commission, which sets rules for developments along the waterfront of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and creeks.

The property has a Critical Area Commission designation that limits potential development. The development would need that designation changed to allow intense development to move forward.

pwood@baltsun.com

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