December 22, 2011
I am writing to support two construction projects proposed for greater Catonsville.
The first is the Southwest Physicians Pavilion, a project of Whalen Properties, to be built on the corner of Wilkens and Kenwood avenues at the Baltimore Beltway.
The second project is a senior housing facility on the grounds of the Catonsville Y on Rolling Road.
I write from the perspective of a recent candidate for Baltimore County Council and a lifelong resident, along with my wife and sons, of this community. I care deeply about both its present and future.
There has been a great deal of criticism of Councilman Tom Quirk's decision to recommend that these projects go forward, but I base my position on the following five points in support of them:
The land parcel slated for the Southwest Physicians Pavilion has been zoned as commercial for 27 years and literally backs up to one of the Beltway's sound walls. It is not only zoned for commercial development but is part of the Smart Growth concept of confining so-called commercial buildings to certain areas.
It seems to me the community wins in two ways with this project.
First, low-profile tenants will occupy this building. It is not a bar. It is not even a convenience store.
Councilman Quirk negotiated a reduction in the height of the building in response to the community's concerns.
Second, the new building would contribute to the attractiveness of the community, replacing the view of a poured concrete wall with a professionally designed and landscaped structure.
I agree with the community's demand that any development must add to its overall quality of life. Zoning alone is not enough to accept development. We must also build for Catonsville's future.
The pavilion places a medical facility close by, with easy access to and from the Beltway and within five minutes of a hospital.
My experience is that people move to Catonsville to spend their lives — not just a few years on the way to their next job. They want to continue to live here as they age.
Quality medical services, readily available, are a key element in making that possible.
Councilman Quirk met several times with the community, outside planning agencies and the developers.
In response to community concerns about the pavilion, Councilman Quirk asked Whalen Properties to submit plans to the Baltimore County Department of Planning and a team of independent architects. The result was a reduction in the overall height and square footage of the building.
On its own, Whalen Properties offered a number of community amenities to address concerns, such as a traffic light, community sign, and a $50,000 contribution to Catonsville Rails to Trails to connect the communities.
I believe that our community's concerns were clearly heard.
I happen to be someone who campaigned partly in opposition to another Whalen Properties project, the Promenade, which I still oppose.
I also think it is important that Whalen Properties is a local business. Steve Whalen lives here. He has a strong personal, as well as business, interest in building a better Catonsville.
Finally, I support Councilman Quirk's decision to allow the building of a senior living complex on the Catonsville Y property on Rolling Road.
The facility will be developed by the Shelter Group, owner of Brightwood Assisted Living, the Y's neighbor on Rolling Road.
Shelter is also headquartered in Baltimore. Senior living facilities and health care are their only business.
This project anticipates the growing needs of our older citizens and is a compatible use of the land. In an almost audible gigantic sigh of community relief, the sale of part of the property gives the Y of Central Maryland funds to finally invest in the Catonsville Y facility.
And, as importantly, the Brightwood plan solves the seemingly impossible, long-standing issue of traffic congestion and access from Rolling Road.
Leadership demands that we look at the needs of the future as well as the present and develop a plan that fits those needs into the same frame.
"Just say no" didn't end drug abuse and is a loser for community planning, too.
I strongly encourage those opposing these developments to revisit the projects and work for a balanced solution — much like the solution worked out by Councilman Quirk, the leaders of the two proposed projects and the larger Catonsville community.
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