Catonsville residents protest development before hearing

A dozen members of the Kenwood Gardens Community Association gathered outside a Towson courthouse Thursday morning to protest the proposed development of a medical office building near their homes.

Protesters held signs and voiced concerns about the proposed 89,110-square-foot project known as the Southwest Physicians Pavilion about an hour before a Baltimore County law judge held a 10 a.m. hearing on the Catonsville project.

Last week, the Office of the State Prosecutor subpoenaed eight county agencies for records about the planned unit development (PUD) by developer Steve Whalen.

Organizer Gail Dawson, vice president of the community association, expressed concern about the clearing of trees on the property that act as a sound barrier between the condominium complex and the Baltimore Beltway across the street.

"I thought it was a perfect setting," said Gail Dawson, a resident of the complex on Kenwood Avenue. "I never dreamed we would have this type of issue where we'd have this building right on top of us."

Barbara Haspert said she was concerned about the proximity of the 7-story building to her home, the lighting proposed for the signs on the building and other variances Whalen has requested.

"The guy's asking for a whole bunch of stuff that's quadruple what the county allows," Haspert said, noting that Whalen has requested to be allowed to have directional signs 12 feet tall as opposed to the 4 feet the county permits.

Haspert said she bought her home a short distance from Western School of Technology and Environmental Science county magnet high school about four years ago,

"When I bought, I didn't expect all this," she said. "But it is what it is and you got to fight for your property."

Some of the protesters were concerned about the traffic and held signs "Think traffic is bad now?"

David Dressel has lived in the community since the 1980s and said traffic, especially after school lets out, can back up "as far as you can see."

Western Tech, which opened in 1970, has more than 890 students and more than 60 teachers, according to the Baltimore County Public Schools website.

It will only get worse once Whalen's proposed building has employees and customers driving into it, Dressel said.

Paul Black, the president of the community association, said the development would disrupt the quiet that drew him to the area in 1985.

"With this building, it's not going to be quiet any longer," Black said, citing increased traffic into the community.

"It's not the right type of place for this type of building," he said.

Black also questioned the motivation of Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District, which includes Catonsville, in approving the PUD in September.

A PUD permits development in areas not zoned for it, as long as the proposal includes a superior-quality project with a clear public benefit.

The community benefits for the planned physicians pavilion project included traffic mitigation, improved walkability in the area and a $50,000 donation from Whalen to Catonsville Rails to Trails.

Black, who held a sign that read "Contributions manipulate outcomes," said, "If you contribute enough money to the right people, you can get whatever you want."

Quirk said on Thursday afternoon that the PUD approval has nothing to do with campaign contributions.

"I have not taken money from Steve Whalen or Whalen Properties," he said. "I try to make every decision based on what I think is in the best long-term interest for the entire community."

Quirk noted that he has attempted to work with the community, but the residents' stance that no development was the only option made finding compromise difficult.

"The land itself has been zoned office for over 27 years," Quirk said. "Their whole position is they don't want anything. They didn't want to negotiate.

"It was hard to come up with anything that would please them," he said. "It made it difficult to negotiate."

Whalen was not immediately available Thursday for comment.

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