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Proposed 19-home subdivision in Catonsville draws ire from residents

The development plan for Davis Farms in Catonsville. - Original Credit: Courtesy Photo / Little & Assoc.
The development plan for Davis Farms in Catonsville. - Original Credit: Courtesy Photo / Little & Assoc. (Courtesy Photo / Little & Assoc. / HANDOUT)

An administrative law judge soon will decide whether to approve a 19-home subdivision proposed on a quiet Catonsville street, worrying neighborhood homeowners who say the construction would lead to dangerous pedestrian and traffic conditions and more overcrowded schools.

The development, Davis Farms, would add 18 single-family houses to a 21-acre plot of land at 106 Maple Ave. There are currently three structures on the lot; two would be demolished and one would remain, to create a 19-home development.

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The land being developed is zoned in such a way that it could accommodate 22 houses, rather than the 19 total that are currently planned. Ellicott City-based Tri-Star Development has proposed the project.

But the surrounding neighborhood is vehemently against the construction, and has gathered more than 1,600 signatures on an online petition opposing the project.

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“It’s like putting a watermelon onto the end of an apple tree branch,” said Al Cunniff, who lives on Maple Avenue. “And it’s only making the street less safe.”

Chris Brupbacher, John Brupbacher and Sarah Bennett demonstrate the 15-foot width on the narrowest point of Maple Avenue, where a 19-home development dubbed Davis Farms is proposed.
Chris Brupbacher, John Brupbacher and Sarah Bennett demonstrate the 15-foot width on the narrowest point of Maple Avenue, where a 19-home development dubbed Davis Farms is proposed. (Courtesy of Al Cunniff / Baltimore Sun)

With no room to make a U-turn, delivery trucks and county recycling pick trucks back down the half-mile road to turn back onto Frederick Road in an intersection without signals that neighbors say is dangerous and congested.

“We constantly are hearing, you know, the crash, [and] the fire and the ambulances coming to address that,” said Maria Czajkowski, a neighborhood resident. “That really needs to be considered.”

Construction vehicles, neighbors say, would not be able to squeeze through cars parked along the narrow road should the project move forward. And with no sidewalks, neighborhood children walk on the road, where a traffic engineer on the Davis Farms project estimates a nearly 50% increase in new car trips after the houses are sold.

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Mark Keeley, who assessed the traffic impact on the road, said during an administrative law judge hearing Jan. 29 that adding 190 new car trips — for a total of 460 daily trips — would not have a significant impact on the neighborhood road.

“Clearly, it can handle the additional traffic” with the planned loop at the end of the road, Keeley said.

No road widening is proposed with the development, although neighbors say their homes, of which there are roughly 42 occupied, abut the 15-foot-wide road so closely that building sidewalks or widening it wasn’t feasible anyway.

And with flooding already an issue on Maple Avenue, adding more impervious surfaces is unwanted, said Monica Simonsen, who lives across the street from the site of the proposed homes.

The developer “may have checked the boxes, but within the context of the street, it doesn’t make sense,” Simonsen said.

The developer of the project could not be reached for comment.

Residents also were skeptical of the county’s schools impact analysis, conducted with school enrollment numbers released in September when the schools were in disarray amid a public health crisis that led to building closures.

Neighbors posit a significant number of local public school students were withdrawn from school during an academic year characterized by virtual learning, saying enrollment numbers won’t be representative of school capacity once the pandemic subsides.

Current enrollment projections, based on a county formula that was under review last year, are used to determine how many students a planned residential development likely will add to nearby schools.

Baltimore County Public Schools lost about 4,000 students in the 2019-2020 school year. Enrollment numbers for the 2021-2022 academic year will be released this month, county planners said.

The houses would be districted for Hillcrest Elementary School, at 95% capacity in the 2018-2019 school year; Catonsville Middle School, with capacity nearly 111% in 2018-2019; and Catonsville High School, at 109% capacity in the 2019-2020 academic year and projected to reach 128% capacity in 2026.

State-rated capacity measures the number of students by which a school is overcrowded — a school that is 115% over its state-rate capacity means the school has 15% more students than it can reasonably accommodate.

Based on a projection using 2020 enrollment numbers, “all three schools would still be under 115% of the state-rated capacity” after the houses are built, said Kui Zhao, a demographer on the project.

A study released late last year from the Adequate Public Facilities Task Force, meant to examine development standards, recommends various changes to slow construction, in part by tightening the county’s student capacity standards from 115% seat utilization to 100%.

Administrative Law Judge Paul Mayhew has 15 days from the last hearing date to make a decision on the project, but it’s unclear if another hearing will be held, according to project manager Patrick Williams.

Either party may appeal the decision through the county Board of Appeals.

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