A Catonsville developer wants to build 164 luxury apartments on South Rolling Road near Patapsco Valley State Parks’ popular Soapstone trailhead, but some community members worry the project will increase traffic and overcrowd schools, which the developer refutes.
Developer Steve Whalen is proposing a planned unit development on the 5.4-acre parcel that sits just south of the Southwest Park and Ride and east across the road from the Soapstone trailhead.
Planned unit developments allow a developer more flexibility in land-use regulations, often with mixed uses. Establishing a planned unit development first requires the County Council to adopt a resolution. No concept plan has been drawn up for the apartment complex at 1231 S. Rolling Road, but it would not combine commercial and residential uses.
For the project to move through the county’s development approval process, the County Council will have to vote in favor of the planned unit development. A virtual community input meeting on the proposal is scheduled for July 23 at 7 p.m., and can be accessed via Zoom.
Whalen, who has owned the property for the past seven years, envisions four levels of “highly amenitized,” luxury rental units in a gated community, an option he said Catonsville currently lacks. The one- and two-bedroom apartments would be aimed at empty-nesters and young professionals in the Baltimore-Washington region who may work at the nearby University of Maryland, Baltimore County or commute to work on the Park and Ride.
Whalen Properties so far has drafted only a preliminary floor plan of a project Whalen estimates would cost around $45 million to build.
The planned unit development is being proposed on a “unique” plat of land, buffered by forest but bordered on all sides by major state roadways; surrounded by the I-195 on and off ramps to the north, east and south, and fronted by the State Highway Administration-controlled South Rolling Road, attorney Timothy Kotroco wrote in an application to County Councilman Tom Quirk.
“With its proximity to the Rt. 195 access ramps, the building will serve as a gateway to Catonsville, and for many will be the first building visible after exiting the highway,” Kotroco wrote.
On social media, community members called the proposed location ridiculous and said public infrastructure, including roadways and schools, would not be able to handle an influx of people there. Residents who said they live near the proposed apartment site did not respond to requests to be interviewed.
In 2019, an average of 9,230 vehicles passed through the South Rolling Road corridor on a daily basis, according to data from the Maryland Department of Transportation.
During peak hours between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., according to 2015 traffic congestion maps from the State Highway Administration, that section of road was either moderately or highly congested.
One access point would be included near the property’s existing southern driveway entrance on South Rolling Road, and would be gated with controlled security access. A traffic impact study would be required along with a site plan for the apartments if the planned unit development is approved.
The site lies within a level-of-service “C” or better transportation zone, based on the county’s 2020 Basic Services map, Kotroco wrote.
“Traffic over there is absolutely terrible,” Quirk said.
And while Whalen, who lives nearby on Foxhall Farm Road, acknowledges concern over traffic backups, he says the situation is manageable and does not expect traffic produced by the development in the evening hours — the worst time for congestion there — to have much of an impact.
Quirk, who has taken a neutral position on the planned unit development or the project at this point (pending community buy-in, he said), expressed concern about the potential impact on area schools that are already nearing or at capacity, and floated the idea of an age-restricted development for tenants 55 years or older.
Per the Baltimore County Public Schools projected pupil yield formula, the development could add 29 more students to all grade levels, including six new students at Catonsville High School, which is already at 104% capacity and is expected to become more crowded.
But with the complex offering only one- and two-bedroom apartments, Whalen does not expect to add as many students to the county school system. And regarding Quirk’s notion of age-restricted housing, Whalen said it’s something he is considering, but that he’s chiefly seeking to build a “market-driven product at the high end,” and added that many aging adults would prefer to live in more age-diverse areas.
“This product does not exist in Catonsville,” Whalen said, comparing it, conceptually, to Oella Mills.
“The kinds of open-space amenities that they offer, the fee of rent that they charge — that’s the kind of thing, that’s really what we’re trying to capture here,” he said.
Whalen is proposing to retain 20% of the green space on the property, according to the application. In the application for the planned unit development, Kotroco highlights the nearby Soapstone trail as a draw for tenants, and proposes to build a walking trail around the complex that extends across the state-owned South Rolling Road to connect to the trail.
Whalen has also, in the application, proffered some money to improve Soapstone, an already “an incredibly busy trailhead,” said Dave Ferraro, executive director of the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park.
With the large numbers of vehicles that pull off to park along South Rolling Road to use Patapsco Valley, traffic safety is already a concern there without the increased visitor load a 164-unit development would produce, Ferraro said. He was also skeptical about the prospect of connecting the trail across a major vehicle artery.
“It sounds like it’s early stages, but [Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park] and Park Service generally can be a real asset to these developers, if we have responsible development,” Ferraro said.