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Plan to develop private Catonsville golf club on state-owned parkland killed

A controversial plan to relocate the private Rolling Road Golf Club to state-owned parkland in Oella has been thwarted by Catonsville’s County Council member.

Citing Councilman Tom Quirk’s request through the county’s Comprehensive Zoning Map Process to cut in half the residential density permitted on the golf club’s land, the financial impact of the coronavirus and public backlash, golf club president Rick Sovero said during a virtual hearing Thursday evening that the club “will not be moving forward with the relocation."

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“The biggest driving factor obviously was Councilman Quirk’s downzoning [request],” Sovero said in an interview.

Quirk proposed to change the zoning to head off the prospect that the land could be sold and developed for residential use, which Catonsville residents feared would further burden already overcrowded schools and roads.

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The club’s board has elected not to renew an agreement with Ribera Development, which sought to help the club purchase and develop 206 acres of land owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, currently leased by the operator of Patapsco Horse Center.

Although a Ribera representative had floated the notion that the land could be used to build more student housing for the nearby University of Maryland, Baltimore County, there were never solid plans for any entity to purchase the golf club’s Hilltop Road property.

“We anticipate to celebrate another 100 years at our current location,” Sovero said, but if the zoning request is approved by the County Council, the change would “cause financial distress on our continued existence.”

Ribera Development last year approached the golf club board with the prospect of developing the green space on Frederick Road to allow for more amenities, like a driving range, clubhouse and swimming pool. A Ribera representative couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.

Responding to constituent complaints over the prospect to develop public land for use by a private golf club, Quirk in December proposed to reduce the 94-acre plot of land that currently allows up to 3.5 homes per acre. The change would limit the number of homes permitted to be built to just one home per acre.

The result would be a 50% reduction of any future residential development that could be built if a majority of the club’s membership had voted to move, and the land was subsequently sold to another entity for development.

Sovero was advised the reduction would reduce the land value by 75%. The club’s more than 300 members never voted on the proposal, he said.

“Our debt is supported through our land value, and downzoning will jeopardize these commitments,” Sovero said during the hearing. In an interview, he reaffirmed the board of the 101-year-old club has “no intention to move at this point.”

Quirk, an Oella Democrat, said the request will continue to go through the zoning change process, but that doesn’t mean he will vote to approve it. During a March hearing on zoning change requests, Quirk said he would pursue the zoning change if the club continued to pursue developing the Oella property.

Staff at the Baltimore County Department of Planning and the Planning Board recommended retaining the current zoning, but approval of zoning change requests are ultimately left to the County Council.

Council members typically vote in accordance with the council member who puts forward the request for approval.

The council will review requests from July to mid-September. A final vote on requests is expected before Sept. 16.

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An updated timeline of the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process can be viewed at https://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/planning/czmp/timeline.html.

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