Developer wants to build homes on Middle River's last waterfront parcel

One of the last undeveloped waterfront parcels on Middle River in Essex could be turned into a community of more than 200 houses, stoking neighbors' concerns about overbuilding and environmental impacts.

Manekin, the Columbia-based real estate developer, plans to build a community called Water's Landing at Middle River that would include a mix of single-family homes and townhouses — some with roof decks with a water view.


The Baltimore County Council is expected to vote Monday on whether to allow the project to be considered through an alternate process that enables the developer to exceed current zoning restrictions.

Samuel Neuberger, of Manekin, said the developer plans to build an attractive community making good use of the pocket of undeveloped land. He noted that the northeastern portion of the county is a fast-growing area.


"It's a beautiful part of the county," Neuberger said. "We view this as a transformational project for the area."

But some neighbors are raising concerns that the development along Hopkins Landing Drive off of Old Eastern Avenue would be built too close to the sensitive shoreline and should be scaled back.

"It's the last big piece on the main part of Middle River," said Allen Robertson, president of the nearby Bowleys Quarters Community Association.

"Middle River is one of the cleaner rivers in the state on the Chesapeake Bay," Robertson said. "Why keep building, building, building until it's as degraded as other rivers and you have to spend millions of dollars on cleanup?"

County Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, is sponsoring a bill before the council on Monday that would allow Water's Landing to go through the county's planned-unit development process — a review that grants zoning flexibility in exchange for the developer providing a "community benefit."

The Water's Landing site already is zoned to allow more than 200 single-family homes, but Manekin wants a mix of 207 townhouses and single-family homes, and needs the flexibility to build townhouses, which are not allowed under the current zoning.

The company says it would build a network of trails winding through the property, which sits on a peninsula that juts into Middle River and Hopkins Creek. To satisfy the community benefit requirement, the company is pledging $50,000 for projects designed to improve water quality. Those projects have yet to be determined.

All of the houses would be at least 100 feet away from the shore, Neuberger said.

Baltimore County has experienced population growth — about 6.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to U.S. Census data. That has led to skirmishes over development in areas such as Towson, which has seen both residential and commercial growth. Over that same period, Middle River saw a 5.15 percent population increase, from 23,958 to 25,191.

Bevins agrees Middle River has become increasingly popular and said Water's Landing is the type of high-quality housing development families are seeking near the water.

"More and more people want to move to eastern Baltimore County," she said, noting that Water's Landing is "the last piece of waterfront development in my district, so it's important it's done right."

Bevins said Manekin already has improved the 58-acre property by removing dilapidated shacks, several sunken boats and more than 1,000 dumped tires.


She also said Manekin officials did a "really good job" reaching out to residents of surrounding neighborhoods and bringing them on board.

The Essex-Middle River Civic Council, an umbrella organization for neighborhood groups, initially asked Manekin and Bevins to hold off on the project. But the council voted in May to remove that request — and endorsed the zoning process bill going before the County Council.

Bob Bendler, president of the civic council, said Manekin made adjustments to its initial plan to address residents' concerns, such as reducing the total number of houses and moving some of them farther from the water.

"It's moving in the direction of the best possible development, we hope," he said. "Overall, we're satisfied that they're working with us. The developer has been cooperative and open with us."

Nevertheless, he said, the civic council will keep a close eye on Water's Landing as it moves forward. And he agrees with critics that a housing development isn't the ideal use for the site. The civic council tried to convince the county to buy the land for use as a park, but it didn't work out, he said.

Robertson, who represents Bowleys Quarters on the civic council, was the only vote against withdrawing opposition, though he said other neighborhoods abstained.

While Water's Landing already has zoning allowing for a housing development, Robertson thinks the planned-unit development process would allow too many homes too close to the water.

"The middle ground is to build 85 to 150 units," Robertson said.

He also said all of the homes should be at least 300 feet from the water's edge, so that it doesn't encroach upon an environmentally sensitive area called the Critical Area. Under state Critical Area rules, the property can have "limited development" that's similar to what's found in the surrounding area — if the development doesn't harm water quality.

Charlotta Turner of Hopewell Pointe, a neighborhood on the same peninsula as Water's Landing, believes the new development would harm water quality. Turner said she wants Manekin to scale back the project and leave more of the property undeveloped.

Turner also is concerned that the nearest sewage pumping station, which was put in when Hopewell Pointe was built, won't be able to handle the flow from 200 more homes. That issue may be reviewed by county agencies during the planning process.

"I'm not convinced that the pumping station can handle it," she said.


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