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New Baltimore County zoning takes effect Sept. 10

Nearly 300 land-use decisions made

By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

6:24 PM EDT, September 2, 2012

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While the fight over redevelopment of the former Solo Cup property dominated public debate in Baltimore County's comprehensive zoning review, County Council members made nearly 300 other land-use decisions last week.

The votes ended a yearlong process of meetings and local battles. The zoning overhaul — the reviews take place every four years — involved 296 issues, the fewest ever. The new maps are to take effect Sept. 10.

Council members typically vote unanimously on such decisions, following the lead of the councilperson who represents the district in which the zoning petition is filed. Councilman Todd Huff, whose district is the county's largest, had the most issues to review.

Huff, a Lutherville Republican, turned down requests from the preservationist group Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council to limit future development on more than 1,000 acres in the White Hall, Monkton and Parkton areas. The group focused on the need to protect clean drinking water and other environmental issues.

Huff approved requests that could allow more development on large pieces of land, including 115 acres along Phoenix Road, 175 acres along Stockton and Cooper roads, and 97 acres on Belfast Road.

The property on Belfast was unfairly rezoned to limit development four years ago, Huff said, adding that the owner planned to put an agricultural easement on the property.

"I'm righting the wrong that occurred several years ago," he said.

But Huff declined to allow more development on 66 acres at the Mount Carmel Tree Farm in Parkton. That decision means the farm — which has not been profitable in about a decade — will likely close after this year, said Ryan Brown, whose family owns the business.

The family had hoped to create eight lots to sell but to preserve about 48 acres to help keep the farm open, Brown said. But he says his family now will be forced to sell all of the land.

"We were just trying to do the right thing," Brown said. "We weren't trying to overcrowd the schools or kill the trout."

Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond's most controversial issue was the redevelopment of the former Solo Cup plant on Reisterstown Road, where developer Greenberg Gibbons requested retail zoning so it could build an upscale shopping center called Foundry Row. The council voted 6-1 to approve retail at the site, with Councilman Kenneth Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, casting the only vote against it.

Another issue that drew community interest in Almond's district was the future of 232 acres once owned by the Chestnut Ridge Country Club, which closed last year. The land was then bought by a firm tied to developer Cignal Corp. Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, chose a zoning classification that would allow only about nine homes on the site off Falls Road.

On the county's eastern side, Councilwoman Cathy Bevins rejected a request for zoning that could have allowed hundreds of homes to be built on conservation land along Bird River.

"Environmentally, it would have been a disaster," said Bevins, a Middle River Democrat.

She also turned down requests that would have allowed townhouses on about 120 acres near Bird River Road, citing a lack of community support.

In Councilman John Olszewski Sr.'s district, the Sparrows Point Country Club requested residential zoning. The club has been considering selling part of its property.

Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat, said his decision did not reflect the club's exact request but would allow about 200 homes to be built there.

He also supported a request to rezone the former Seagram's plant property in Dundalk to permit the development of offices and housing. Developer John Vontran said last week that he had no "definite plans" for the property, though he previously proposed to build senior housing and move county offices to the site.

Councilman David Marks said more than 400 acres in his district were downzoned, including over 260 acres in Perry Hall.

"While I certainly believe development can create jobs and expand our tax base, I don't think government has the resources right now to put into the roads and schools needed for future growth," said Marks, a Perry Hall Republican.

Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said that of the 263 acres included in his district's requests, he downzoned 43 percent to protect natural resources and neighborhood character.

Baltimore County's zoning process is unusual, said Kimberly Brandt, local policy director for 1,000 Friends of Maryland, a group focused on land-use policy.

In most counties, zoning is done after the county revises its master plan, she said. But in Baltimore County, the master plan is reviewed every decade while zoning maps are revisited every four years.

A recent report from the group suggested that should be changed.

"Our feeling is that the planning process and the zoning process seem to be divorced from each other," Brandt said. "Zoning is one of the most powerful tools to implement the master plan."

The council's final decisions on each zoning issue are posted online at baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/planning/zoning/2012czmp/issuelog.html.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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