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Quirk proposal aimed at preserving open space

Tom QuirkDavid Marks

Councilman Tom Quirk has co-sponsored a bill, if approved by the County Council on Feb. 6, would preserve designated open space in Baltimore County's most developed areas.

The proposal would establish a Neighborhood Commons Overlay District, limiting the uses of open space inside the Urban Rural Demarcation Line (URDL) in Baltimore County that separates its least and most developed areas.

The URDL was established in 1967 to manage growth in the county by designating those areas "that had or would receive public water and sewer infrastructure and therefore would accommodate development," according to a county history of master planning.

Quirk, a Democrat who represents 1st District, which includes Catonsville, co-sponsored the bill with David Marks, a Republican who represents 5th District, which includes Perry Hall and Towson.

"We might be charting new ground on this one," Quirk said, noting that a search through the legislation of other states and counties didn't produce anything similar. "This is a partial solution to really trying to do a better job balancing open space and green space."

The state defines open space as preserved, unimproved green space that is not improved with permanent recreation facilities.

Should the council approve the bill, the Neighborhood Commons Overlay District would only preserve land belonging to a non-governmental nonprofit organization that has a land trust or covenant agreement recorded with Baltimore County.

"In reality, a lot of this at first would apply to NeighborSpace because NeighborSpace is a non-governmental (nonprofit organization)," Quirk said, referring to the organization that works to preserve open space in the county's most developed areas.

Land trusts and covenant agreements, Quirk said, tend to have expiration dates and this legislation intends to safeguard against open space being developed.

"We're giving a lot more depth and strength for a much longer term," Quirk said.

The open space would be available for use for civic, social, educational or recreational uses, according to the proposed bill.

These uses may not involve recreational structures or utility buildings unless they are less than 1,000 square feet and are "incidental and subordinate" to the permitted use, the proposed bill stated.

A special exception would be required for a permitted use to include a recreation structure or utility building of more than 1,000 square feet, according to the bill.

An overlay district does not change current zoning regulations, but adds an additional zoning requirement, Quirk said.

"The purpose of the act is to provide a means to regulate the development potential of land near or within neighborhoods inside the URDL acquired by nonprofit organizations for purposes that favor community open space activities," the proposed bill stated.

Should the County Council pass the bill, at it would take effect March 22.

"Hopefully, long term, it's going to allow us to do a better job, especially in our older communities, build up pocket parks and open space," Quirk said.

In early January, the County Council passed a resolution proposed by Quirk to accept a donation of 11 acres of land south of Maple Avenue in Catonsville from Baltimore City.

Quirk said his intention is for the land to remain open space.

In September, Quirk and Marks teamed to introduce a bill that would allow donations to NeighborSpace, a local nonprofit focused on preserving green space inside the URDL, to be considered a public benefit when the County Council considers approving a planned unit development.

A planned unit development (PUD) permits development in areas not zoned for it, but the proposal must include a superior-quality project with a clear public benefit.

The County Council passed that bill 6-1 after altering a portion of it.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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