Leading a tour of the woods behind Belvedere Towers on Saturday, Shelley Sehnert insisted she is not opposed to more development in the area.
"We just don't need it at the corner of Falls Road and Northern Parkway," she said.
Sehnert, president of the North Roland Park Association, is one of several community leaders in North Roland Park and Poplar Hill who are fighting plans by developers Lawrence Rosenberg, of The Mark Building Co., and Marc Horwitz, of Intrepid Commercial Co., to build a four-story, 174-unit building of 1,200-square-foot luxury apartments on average and 250 parking spaces on about half of the 12-acre wooded area.
Residents object to the project on several grounds, including its potential effect on traffic as far away as Mount Washington and especially the busy intersection of Falls and Northern, as well as its impact on infrastructure and nearby schools.
They also say they would rather see home ownership than rentals in the area of mostly single-family houses.
Sehnert said that as much as anything, she is concerned about the trees "and killing them all off."
"A high-density apartment building is not the way to go there," said Susan Joslow, newly elected president of the Poplar Hill Association. "We don't want something that dense there. It's just crazy at that intersection and putting 250 more cars there isn't going to help."
The apartments can be built "by right" on a part of the woods zoned R-6, which allows for apartments, said Al Barry of AB Associates, who is representing the developers as a land-use consultant and point person for the project. The rest of the parcel is zoned R-1 for single-family homes, he said.
Rosenberg and Horwitz are buying the property and have it under contract, but have not closed on the sale yet and have not filed development plans with the city, Barry told a reporter last week and an audience of 50 residents at a community meeting Feb. 2 at First Christian Church of Roland Park.
"At some point, we plan to" file plans, Barry told residents. "We've not been willing to do that until we've had more discussions with your neighborhood about an agreement."
Not a high-rise
Barry said the proposed apartment building is under different ownership than the longtime Belvedere Towers and would be shorter than Belvedere Towers.
"It is not a high-rise," he told residents.
However, Sehnert called it "Belvedere Towers II" in an email announcing the meeting. The email was titled, "Planning Meeting: Stop Belvedere Towers II," and stated, "We are asking for your help in fighting this proposed development. Join with us to form a multi-community coalition of neighborhoods seeking rational, intelligent, thoughtful, green, community-responsive development, and not another high-rise that puts hundreds more cars into the busiest intersection in Baltimore City."
Community leaders say they are in discussions with the developers. But it was clear at the meeting, and in interviews before and since, that most residents oppose the plan in its current form.
"No one in the community likes the idea of an apartment complex there," Joslow said before the meeting.
"We have to be stewards of the area," Trish MacDonald, of Mount Washington, told Barry during the meeting. "Take your money and go somewhere else."
Only Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, who represents the area, voiced any support for the project, or at least for the developers' right to build it.
"I support the fact that [Rosenberg] has a property that he's entitled to develop," Spector said after the meeting. "This community is saying, 'We want it as if we owned it.'"
Spector, a reporter, Rosenberg, Barry and other nonresidents were asked to leave the meeting after Barry's presentation, so that residents could strategize their next steps.
"Then why did you invite me?" asked Spector, a longtime councilwoman who is not seeking re-election after 39 years. "I've never been asked to leave a meeting that I've been invited to," she said.
Tromping around in the woods with Sehnert, Joslow and other residents Saturday was Cliffhurst Road resident Nancy Cormeny.
"I'm just concerned that getting out on Falls Road now is taking your life in your hands," she said. "If they add up to 250 more cars a day, I don't know how they would do it. I think a lot depends on the traffic study."
Ed Clawsey, whose house on Falls Road would overlook the development, challenged anyone to cross Falls Road on foot.
"You can't do it," he said.
Sehnert said overall, the development is inconsistent with the area of single-family homes.
"We don't have any businesses," she said. "We're a family-owned, residential community."
She said she would prefer condominiums on the site, as the developers first proposed.
"That's what we were negotiating, and it got dropped," she said. "It's not that we don't want people living there."
Sehnert and other community leaders now are trying to get support from other area communities to join them in opposition. Sehnert said she spoke to the Roland Park Civic League at its monthly meeting Feb. 3.
"Our board is very sympathetic to their position," said Chris McSherry, president of the league, which did not take a formal position because it lacked a quorum for its meeting and could not take a vote. "As always, we will support our neighboring community association in opposing a development in their midst that they believe is too dense. Personally, I agree that it is much too dense for that site, and I can't understand why it is zoned R-6.The intersection of Falls and Northern Parkway is already failing badly."
Sehnert said residents are still willing to give community input if the developers seek it. Barry, for his part, is leaving the door open and said for that reason, there is no price tag on the project yet.
"The developer has not finalized any estimate of the development costs due to the range of options being considered," he said.