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Catonsville golf club attorneys call request to downzone land illegal; planning staff recommends no change

A proposal to reduce the zoning density on the land occupied by the Rolling Road Golf Club in Catonsville drew ire from golf club leadership, who on Tuesday evening questioned the intent behind the request filed by Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk during a public hearing on the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process.

In December, the southwestern county representative submitted the request to reduce the number of homes permitted to be built on the 96-acre parcel from 3.5 homes to one home per acre, the lowest residential density Baltimore County allows. If the County Council approves the change, it could devalue the land by 75%, according to Golf Club president Rick Sovero.

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“Why downzone us now?” Sovero said. “We have no plans to cease operations, we are financially strong.”

The requests are part of a yearlong Comprehensive Zoning Map Process that occurs every four years, allowing members of the public and council members to ask for zoning changes.

The Oella Democrat proposed the change in response to public outcry. Preliminary plans surfaced that showed the club, which has existed on Hilltop Road for over a century, is considering relocating to state-owned parkland to build a larger course on Frederick Road currently leased by the operators of Patapsco Horse Center.

The club cannot move without a majority vote of its club membership, which has yet to vote on the relocation, Sovero said.

Baltimore County planning staff recommended the change not be approved, citing its inconsistency with Baltimore County’s 2020 Master Plan and the surrounding land uses, according to online zoning documents.

The Baltimore County Council has the final say on zoning change requests.

“If the golf course wants to continue to try to take over state parkland to put a private golf course for use only by 200 [golf club members] that the public can’t benefit from, it’s dead on arrival,” Quirk said Tuesday night.

Backed by numerous golf club members who attended the hearing, attorneys representing the golf club, shareholders of Beltway Realty Corp. — members of the club who own its current property — and Ribera Development, who approached the club with the prospect of moving, told the Baltimore County Planning Board rezoning the property in a way that doesn’t match the county’s Master Plan is legally dubious.

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Rezoning the parcel would violate Maryland Land Use Code that stipulates zoning changes “shall be consistent with [a jurisdiction’s] adopted comprehensive plan,” said Sean Davis, who told planners he was representing his client.

"It has public sewer, it has public water. It has good schools, public schools … It has all the public facilities necessary for development,” Davis said. “It meets every aspect of the [state-designated] priority funding area and it meets every aspect of smart growth” legislation.

“It would be a waste of county resources to downzone this property,” said David Katz, an attorney representing Ribera Development.

Citing a Baltimore Sun Media article in which Quirk said he’d prefer to the land continue to be used as a golf course or as a public park, which would require the county to acquire it, Katz accused Quirk of proposing the change to “systemically deleverage the owner and to downgrade the value of the property to allow for an easier acquisition process on behalf of county.”

“If it’s downzoned, it’s worth less, therefore the county can pay less for its public park,” Katz said.

Quirk called those claims “unequivocally” a “paranoid delusion.”

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“That is not at all why I considered downzoning it,” he said. “Do I want to see the golf club close down? Absolutely not.”

But, he added, “it is audacious and ridiculous that a private golf club thinks that they are entitled to take over public land so they can build a private golf course that the public can’t benefit from; that’s my position.

“I will certainly downzone them if they continue to proceed in that direction.”

Sovero and Steve Gevarter, a Beltway Realty shareholder, said attempts to meet with Quirk to discuss the proposed change have gone unanswered.

“We don’t think that’s the way government’s intended to operate,” Clark said.

Quirk contended he’s had discussions with several club members regarding the zoning change, and added he has “an open door policy.”

Public hearings before County Council members will start in June, with 1st District issues up for discussion on Thursday, June 11 at Catonsville High School.

A full timeline of the zoning process can be found online at https://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/planning/czmp/timeline.html.

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