Tree removal for Catonsville Y expansion frustrates residents

The bay window in the dining room of Kevin and Rachel Hodges' Catonsville house once opened to an expanse of forest behind the Catonsville Family Center Y on South Rolling Road. In front of the forest lay the Hodges' large backyard where their 15-month-old daughter, Allison, and their beagle, Hunter, play.

Now the forest is gone, replaced by orange fencing and large construction equipment. Piles of mulch are all that remain of the woods.

The clearing is part of a plan to expand the Catonsville Y and build a new independent senior living facility as part of the Brightview Catonsville campus on South Rolling Road.

"We've been aware of it for quite a while," Kevin Hodges said. "So we've been mentally preparing.

"It's going to take quite a while for the view to get back to anything somewhat pleasant," he said.

"I don't think it's going to be so bad once it's there," his wife said of the new facility. "It's just the devastation of having all those trees gone."

The tree removal was a preliminary step in a long process, according to John Hoey, president and CEO of the Y of Central Maryland.

"Right now, people are kind of seeing the worst scenario," Hoey said. "Before we do all this site work, there will be almost 200 new trees planted on the property and then a significant amount of additional landscaping along the front of South Rolling Road.

"That will all get done, and I think what people will see when it's done is a very attractive site," he said. "We're planting a lot more trees than the county required us to.

"Right now, it certainly looks like, 'Oh my goodness, we're clearing all this and it's going to look terrible,'" Hoey said. "But you're kind of seeing the before picture, without seeing the after picture."

Hoey said the first phase of the construction project —involved an 8,000-square-foot expansion to the Catonsville Y — was completed in April.

The second phase will add another expansion to the existing Y and provide 140 units of senior housing to the Brightview Catonsville campus in a new, independent living building. It will also include a new parking lot for the Brightview building and an expanded entrance to the facilities from South Rolling Road.

"In the second phase, really there's a significant amount of site work that needs to be done," Hoey said. "That means the clearing of the property, the building of the expanded Rolling Road, the putting in of the new entranceway, the implementation of the new parking, the new storm water management."

Deb Neebe lives off South Rolling Road, about a mile from construction site, and said she was disappointed that the Y of Central Maryland and the Shelter Group, which owns Brightview, removed so many trees.

"You try so hard to keep the look, you just don't see neighborhoods like this everywhere" Neebe said of Catonsville's historic oak groves. "And then to see these huge oak trees cut down was just heartbreaking.

"Yeah, they'll plant trees. But they'll be 4- or 6-foot saplings," Neebe said. "You're just never going to get that growth back in 100 years. just really wish that people would put a little more thought into the process."

The Hodges said they bought their home on Colgate Court in 2011, before plans for the construction were announced.

They are upset about the loss of the woods and hope Brightview and the Y come through with their plans to plant more trees.

"The big question is going to be whether or not they're going to follow up with it," Kevin Hodges said. "They could plant 2-foot trees or 10-foot trees.

"We're trying to give them the benefit of the doubt," he said.

According to Andrew Teeters, vice president of development for the Shelter Group, the companies involved did their best to conserve as much forest land as possible.

"In the county process, of course, we have a landscape plan," Teeters said. "Our plan, in terms of tree replacement, exceeds all of the county requirements.

"Next fall, when we're getting closer to completion, you will see that we're going to (plant many trees) , providing buffers for the street front along Rolling Road and for the neighbors," he said.

"The original property is 20 acres, and we, Brightview and the Y, are only using the front 10 acres as part of our plan," Teeters said. "The entire back 10 acres is being preserved as forest."

First District Councilman Tom Quirk said he thinks that, in the long run, the project will be a big benefit to the community.

"It's something I've definitely received a lot of phone calls and emails from residents about the trees being cleared," Quirk said. "I talked to John [Hoey] and he said, for every one tree they cut down, they're going to plant two trees."

He said the Y's partnership with Brightview will bring revenue back to the programs at the area's Y.

"At the end of the day, this is going to be a really phenomenal YMCA for the community and the trees are going to be replanted," he said.

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