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Balto. Co. Council member decides against riverfront development

The Baltimore County Council member from Middle River said Thursday that she is opposed to allowing a riverfront housing development on conservation land in her district, which would be the largest project ever outside a long-standing growth-control boundary.

Cathy Bevins said she plans to vote against a zoning change on farm and wooded land along Bird River in Middle River that was opposed by the county's environmental agency, local preservationists and most neighbors. The requested change would allow hundreds of houses to be built on land where three homes are now allowed.

"It's a solid no," Bevins, a Democrat, said Thursday. She said she was never a "cheerleader for this project," and said she could not foresee any turn of events that could change her mind between now and the time the seven-member council votes on the county's new zoning map, probably by mid-September. Under customary council practice, members decide on zoning matters in their own districts and are rarely opposed by their colleagues.

A few weeks ago, Bevins said she had not taken a position on the proposed change but understood the community to have mixed views on it. On Thursday, she said she was influenced by the Bird River Beach Community Association's move to change its position and oppose the project.

She also said she was troubled by the prospect of a development outside the Urban Rural Demarcation Line (URDL), a boundary created in 1967 to concentrate the most intense development in about a third of the county's land. The boundary roughly marks the limits of public water and sewer service.

Joseph Stamato of Verus Development LLC, which was proposing to build about 370 single-family houses on roughly half of the 292 acres off Ebenezer Road, said he was not giving up the pursuit. He said he was willing to reduce the number of houses in the proposal.

"I have been out in the community for months now, and I plan to continue those meetings," Stamato said in an email Thursday. "I want to make sure everyone is informed as to why this proposed project will benefit the area."

Stamato, whose company is based in Frederick, said he would preserve about 120 acres that lie within 1,000 feet of the water, where development rights are sharply limited under state law. With that land preserved, he said "the project will actually have a net positive environmental impact compared with existing conditions."

Stamato could not provide evidence to support that claim. "Our environmental study is not yet completed," his email said.

Sharon Bailey, of the county's Advisory Commission on Environmental Quality, said she was pleased that Bevins opposes the project.

"I applaud her for doing the right thing," Bailey said. "The URDL line should not be moved. It was created for a purpose. There is nothing that has changed that would justify the URDL being moved for this purpose."

Steven Kline, president of the Bird River Beach Community Association, said he was happy to hear about Bevins' decision.

"We're really enthused that she's on our side," Kline said. He said the association's members voted to oppose the zoning change last week. In March, the organization of some 70 members first told Bevins in a letter that the group would not oppose the change, then a week later reversed course.

The proposed development would have made it necessary to run sewer and water lines across the growth boundary, something that has been done in the past only for health reasons, when private wells and septic systems have failed. Officials of the county Planning Office and Department of Public Works said this would be the first time public water and sewer was extended to support a development, and this would be the largest project ever outside that boundary.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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