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Councilman's final approval for zoning changes in Catonsville, Arbutus

By Keith Meisel, kmeisel@tribune.com

3:30 PM EDT, September 4, 2012

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"Zoning is all about maintaining a proper balance between community concerns and property rights," according to 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk.

Last week, the representative for Arbutus, Catonsville and Lansdowne areas nearly matched his approval of requests for a change in zoning of a property in his district with his denials for a zoning change.

Quirk approved 18 requests for a zoning change among the 39 issues in the 1st District while keeping the current zoning for 13 properties as the County Council's Aug. 28 vote completed the quadrennial Comprehensive Zoning Map Process.

The first-term councilman followed the recommendation of the Planning Board for two properties. In six cases, his decision incorporated aspects of the board's recommendation, the county staff recommendation, the request and the existing zoning.

"What I aimed for was to protect our property values, be mindful of our natural resources and create opportunities to bring family supporting jobs to the district," he said in a release.

The largest zoning request change was for nearly 45 acres in Relay that had been zoned to allow residential development in a rural area of no more than one dwelling for every 2 acres.

Instead of granting a request that would allow a dwelling per acre, Quirk accepted the county staff and Planning Board recommendations to allow office residential use for a half-acre while maintaining the rural residential zoning for the rest of the property.

Quirk voted to approve two requests to change the zoning in order to strictly limit residential development. Those requests involved more than 30 acres south of Hilton Avenue and more than 27 acres west of Thistle Road in western Catonsville.

He also voted for the zoning that would prevent residential development on a combined 27 acres near Patapsco Valley State Park in Catonsville.

"The two of them together don't quite touch each other," said Joe Gochar, president of the Hilltop/Maple Community Association, on the 11-acre property at the end of Maple Avenue and the 16-acre property west of Maple and east of Hilltop.

A South Hilltop Road resident since 1972, Gochar said his group has asked to have the residential zoning changed during several previous CZMP cycles.

"It didn't make sense to have a stream valley with DR1 (1 residential dwelling per acre) on it," he said.

"At the beginning of the zoning process, we pointed out the properties and asked him if there was some way to provide a change in zoning to preserve them. He agreed," Gochar said.

Quirk's proposal changed the zoning on all but .29 acre of the two properties to a resource conservation zoning used to protect forest, watersheds and other natural areas.

"We're very appreciative of what he's done for us," Gochar said.

Quirk's decisions affected 263 acres in the 1st District. More than half the requests for a zoning change were for properties of less than 2 acres.

"For each zoning issue, I personally went out and looked at the property," Quirk said

Among the smallest issues was for .33 acre on Old Frederick Road at Baltimore National Pike near the Winters Lane community of Catonsville.

Quirk denied a request to change the zoning from residential to a classification that would allow a business such as a bank, shop or food store.

"Everybody is pleased with his decision to go along with what our thoughts were for the property. He did a splendid job," said Wilnet Bristow, a leader of the Holly Manor Improvement Association.

"We don't want it to say vacant. But at the same time, we don't want it to be commercial," she said. "We are very much aware that strip, you would think would be commercial.

"But what we really are hoping for is that we can get it residential," she said.

Emma Pennington, of the Winters Lane Advisory Board, who was also involved in discussions with Quirk, agreed that having a house on the property would be the ideal situation.

"We want to keep the neighborhood as residential," she said. "This is a decent place — a good place — to live."

Quirk said that compared to his colleagues on the council he faced very few controversial issues.

"In most of the issues that my community had a concern with, I also had concerns with," he said.

He said the key was finding the right balance between density and open space.