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Development of Morsberger property resumes

A development of 43 single family homes in the heart of Catonsville that was temporarily put on hold is now moving forward, with a development plan hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 22 in Towson.

The development plan for the Morsberger property originated in 2005 and was approved by Baltimore County. It was put on hold due to the economic recession of 2007 and 2008, according to Steve Whalen, a local developer and licensed real estate broker hired by the Morsberger family to see the plan through.

"Builders basically said we're not interested and it's taken this long for the housing market to recover, so it's strictly an economic thing," Whalen said. "Things are starting to recover and builders are starting to get back into new development."

Whalen fielded questions and concerns about the proposal during a private meeting Aug. 6 at the Catonsville Library.

Residents whose property lies adjacent to the site located at 631 Winners Circle, bordered from the north by Seminole Avenue and Patapsco Valley State Park, from the south by Hilton Avenue and Cakhill Road, from the east by Park Grove Avenue and west by Forest Road, were invited to the meeting by a letter sent by Whalen dated July 25.

Some residents raised concerns about increased traffic, a reduction in the amount of open space, a proposal to increase the size of the homes and the potential of adding more students to already overcrowded schools.

The four-bedroom homes will be in the low to high $700,000 range, with 3,200 and 3,500 square feet, Whalen said.

"The density and the size of homes doesn't fit with the design of Catonsville neighborhoods," said Alicia Alcorn, who lives on Park Grove Avenue.

Larger homes on smaller lots will seem out of place in comparison to many of the homes on larger wooded lots in the area, she said

Whalen will be asking for a number of variances, or the approval to deviate from county development rules, which will be discussed at the upcoming hearing. Variances are granted by an administrative law judge, which will be determined at the hearing.

Those variances include: increasing the home footprint size from 40 feet by 40 feet to approximately 55 feet by 55-feet; reducing distance between 29 of the lots from 30 feet to 20 feet in order to increase the size of the homes; changes to the front or rear setback requirements of certain homes and changing the required distance from the forest buffer for three of the homes, according to the development plan.

Earlier in the development process, an open space waiver was paid, to allow no active open space and 10,000 square feet of passive open space, instead of the 27,950 square feet of active space and 15,050 square feet of passive originally required by the county.

"It seems like we have a lack of green space in Catonsville," said Erica Mah, a resident who lives on Seminole Avenue.

Mah, who serves as vice president of the Hillcrest Elementary PTA, said she is concerned about increasing school overcrowding that may result from the addition of homes. The development will feed into Hillcrest Elementary, Catonsville Middle and Catonsville High.

Hillcrest is the most overcrowded school in Catonsville, with 817 students enrolled and a state-rated capacity of 666.

"My concern is about the schools, because the timing of when they will have feet on the ground is technically after we are going to done with the redistricting," Mah said.

The boundary change process is expected to begin between June 2015 and March 2016, according to Pete Dixit, executive director of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Department of Physical Facilities.

Baltimore County code written in 2000 requires the Department of Planning to assess development impact on schools.

New developments are factored into enrollment projections once they are approved by the county, said Paul Taylor, a coordinator in the BCPS Office of Strategic Planning.

Factors that determine those enrollment projections are determined by an algorithm which takes into account historic enrollment trends, live birth data and development patterns, Taylor said.

Those development patterns consider whether it's a condominium, townhouse or single-family detached home, but do not consider the number of bedrooms within the home, he said.

According to a 2009 BCPS document, a single family dwelling within Catonsville will yield 0.179 elementary age students, 0.09 middle school age students and 0.126 high school age students.

"We just don't want to fight this battle for a third or fourth generation — it's like every time a new group of kids come in, we have to figure out overcrowding again. We just want it to be considered," Mah said.

Construction of the development is expected to begin spring 2015 and the homes are expected to take approximately two years to be sold once built, Whalen said.

Once the development plans are approved, the plan will be sold to a builder, who will determine the exterior design of the homes, Whalen explained.

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