Catonsville developer accepts blame for confusion about medical office eatery

Developer Steve Whalen said he has only himself to blame for the misconception that have circulated about a planned medical office building in Catonsville.

Wednesday, he took steps to rectify the situation.

Based on language that Whalen admits was "not very clear," area residents feared the development of a four-story medical office building at 350 Kenwood Avenue, a short distance from the Wilkens Avenue exit to Interstate 695, would include a 6,684-square-foot restaurant.

The development plan for the Southwest Physicians Pavilion detailed the need for 107 parking spaces, based on a formula of 16 spaces for every 1,000 square feet of space.

But that total to accommodate the 6,684-square-foot restaurant, was a "worst-case analysis," Whalen said.

"The intention all along had been to provide what really ends up being, for practical purposes, a cafeteria for the people who use the building," Whalen said Wednesday afternoon.

At a Development Plan Conference earlier on Wednesday in Towson, Whalen and various county agencies agreed on a change in order to place greater restrictions on the proposed eatery.

The eatery may not exceed 2,500 square feet, will not have its own exterior public entrance and may operate only during office hours when tenants are working in the building.

"It shall be established to provide breakfast, lunch, coffee, beverages and snacks for the staff, patients, clients and visitors of the tenants in the building, and not primarily to the general public," according to the plan's new language.

"Everybody was happy with that," Whalen said. "It's not meant to attract people from outside the building."

The restaurant may take the form of a grill, deli, coffee or pastry shop, bistro or a combination of those, he said.

It will primarily service employees, patients and caretakers of patients using the facility, Whalen said.

Lynn Lanham, chief of the Baltimore County Development Review Division, said the new language also allows for a 2,500-square-foot of space for a small pharmacy.

"This is something that's allowed by code," Lanham said. "We wanted to limit it. I really think the original language was probably too broad."

"We had only minor comments beyond that," she said. "That was probably the biggest issue."

Gail Dawson, the vice president of the Kenwood Gardens Condominium Association, said her group did not want to see a large eatery that would attract diners who otherwise would not be in the area.

"We are definitely against that," Dawson said of a large restaurant in the plan. "That was a big red flag we thought."

The condominium association has opposed the development since its proposal for a number of reasons, including the four-story building that will sit atop a three-story parking garage would "overpower" other buildings in the area and create traffic, Dawson said.

A restaurant would only add more congestion, said Dawson, who had moved four years ago to across the street from the 2-acre site where the building will be constructed.

She said she was glad to hear about the changes to language that restrict the size of the eatery.

"I would be more glad if the building wasn't going up over here," she said.

Judy Gratton said she and her husband, Larry, bought their condo in March 2011 in part because of all the trees they can see from their patio.

That wooded property will disappear as the office building is constructed.

A restaurant inside the medical office was the least of her concerns.

"I wasn't worried about the restaurant," she said. "I'm worried about the signage. I'm worried about how high he's making it."

The $24 million, 89,110-square-foot medical office building is being built on property has been zoned for an office building since 1984.

It is being built as a planned unit development (PUD) which 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 project include traffic mitigation, improved walkability in the area and a $50,000 donation from Whalen to Catonsville Rails to Trails.

Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District, which includes Catonsville, approved the PUD in September. The first-term councilman said he heard concerns from area residents about traffic increasing in their neighborhood once the building was completed.

A full-time restaurant would likely increase that traffic, making it a "non-starter," according to Quirk.

"I'm strongly opposed to a restaurant there, because my primary purpose was to put an office there that would have the least impact to the people of Kenwood," Quirk said.

"Steve Whalen understood our concerns and promptly addressed them," he said.

Construction could start as early as spring 2013 and will last about 15 months, Whalen said.

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