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Proposal to move Rolling Road Golf Club in Catonsville to Oella state parkland in early discussions

A view of Rolling Road Golf Club's club house from Hole #15.
A view of Rolling Road Golf Club's club house from Hole #15. (Jeffrey F. Bill / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The board of the Rolling Road Golf Club is proposing to move the facility from its 90-acre property on Hilltop Road to state-owned Oella parkland.

The proposal, which surfaced earlier this month, is still in its early stages, and local lawmakers and golf club representatives say backlash it has garnered is premature.

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In partnership with Ribera Development, the club’s board seeks to sell its land on Rolling Road to build a new golf course on 206 acres of land on Frederick Road owned and leased out by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. That decision first hinges on the approval of the golf club’s 370 members. The Rolling Road property could then potentially be developed for housing, retail or even athletic fields by a new owner.

Currently, the proprietor of the Patapsco Horse Center, Terry Fram, leases 201 acres there from the state, which she has done in 10-year increments since 1988, and provides horse boarding.

Horses at the Patapsco Horse Center on Frederick Road graze.
Horses at the Patapsco Horse Center on Frederick Road graze. (Taylor DeVille)

In her capacity as founder of the nonprofit Maryland Council for Special Equestrians, which specializes in hippotherapy for kids and adults with disabilities, Fram leases another 5 acres for that group’s use, she said.

The farm also houses Plot Twist Horse Farm, which offers riding lessons and education programs at local schools.

Using the “ideas and plans that Ribera and the club have been working on for more than 10 months,” Rolling Road Golf Club President Rick Sovero wrote to club members that the move would "re-establish Rolling Road as a premier facility in Maryland.”

But the plan — only a “general rendering” at this point — won’t move forward unless approved by the club’s membership and the shareholders of Beltway Realty, members of the club who own its current property, Sovero said.

“If they say no, everything’s a moot point,” said Fram, who currently holds a lease for the next 22 years but can “assign” it to someone else with the approval of Natural Resources, she said.

A long-sought move

The golf club’s board has been weighing options to relocate since the early 2000s, Sovero said.

Its current location where the private club was established in 1919 is “limited in size, obviously,” and leaves little room for expansion that is needed to attract new members, Sovero said.

The golf club board’s proposal, which has yet to be approved by a majority of the facility’s members, seeks to build more amenities at the new site — a driving range, a clubhouse and a swimming pool, Sovero said.

There are no cost estimates for the proposal, nor a timeline on when members will be asked to vote on it, a spokesman for Ribera Development said.

Per the club’s charter, if its shareholding members opt to sell the land without the membership’s approval, each member would be entitled to receive $325, Sovero said.

Members voted down a previous proposal to relocate to Dogwood Road in Woodlawn in 2004; Eight other properties have since been considered by the club board, but “they were not close enough to Catonsville to keep this a Catonsville club,” which was important to its members, said John Stamato, a partner with Ribera Development.

The farm is about 5 miles from the club’s current location, but “just saying we want to move doesn’t mean we’re moving by any means,” Sovero said.

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The proposal for the Oella location was presented to club membership earlier this month in an email that called for discretion “until such time as we have an agreement in place and a tangible announcement to make,” Sovero wrote to the club. The leaked email ignited online opposition.

Still, approval by club members and the golf club board would be the first step in a series of state and local negotiations.

Development on the sought-after land is encumbered by restrictions imposed by the U.S. Park Service-administered Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has provided money to the property the golf club is seeking.

The conservation fund requires properties it supports “to be open for use by the general public,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokesman Gregg Bortz wrote in an emailed response.

That requirement is “strictly enforced” by DNR and the Park Service, Bortz said, but the conservation fund’s definition of what qualifies as public use is broad; it includes walking and driving for pleasure, swimming, fishing, boating, hunting, horseback riding, bicycling, snowmobiling, skiing, “and other outdoor sports and activities,” according to the conservation fund’s manual.

Some horseback riding group activities already functioning on the farm could be considered private uses, Stamato said.

DNR “has not committed to sell, lease” or transfer any of its land there, and any forthcoming deal hinges on “buy-in from the community,” Bortz wrote.

Horses at the Patapsco Horse Center on Frederick Road graze.
Horses at the Patapsco Horse Center on Frederick Road graze. (Taylor DeVille)

If a land exchange moves forward, Ribera Development would be required to donate an equivalent acreage of land to the state. Ribera Development has identified several parcels adjacent to Patapsco Valley State Park for donation and is reviewing them with DNR, Stamato said.

“Generally, I am against the sale of public land, whether it’s parkland or whether it’s state-owned property, for the use of potential development without any kind of public input,” Del. Pat Young (D-Baltimore County) said.

Relocating the club would require “all these steps for the community to be involved,” Young said. But the club hasn’t “even gotten that far yet.”

Concerns over development

With the club property’s central location near Catonsville High School, the Community College of Baltimore County and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campuses, new development there could include “athletic fields and recreational facilities, much needed land for the expansion of the [UMBC] tech park, housing directed towards UMBC students, retail and a UMBC-themed hotel,” according to a statement from Ribera Development, issued by public relations firm Nevins & Associates.

“UMBC is not involved with any plans for the Rolling Road Golf Club property,” according to a spokesman for the school.

Ribera Development has “had initial discussions with leaders from UMBC to share general information on the project" and development opportunities on Rolling Road, Ribera Development said in an email through a spokesperson.

“Any specific discussion on the development of the Rolling Road Golf Club property is premature at this point,” according to Ribera.

Echoing sentiments posted by proposal opponents on social media, Catonsville resident Joann Kruger said, "We don’t want more development,” and added that overcrowding is already affecting the county school system, including Catonsville High School, and roads, especially South Rolling Road, which abuts the golf course.

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Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk and Young plan to address the proposal during a Greater Oella Community Association meeting Wednesday evening.

The Rolling Road property is zoned for residential use, which limits development density to 3.5 homes per acre. Opening the door for student housing or a retail center would require that the developer seek approval for a planned unit development from the Baltimore County Council, Quirk said.

The Catonsville Democrat said he met with a representative from Ribera Development and a land-use attorney regarding the proposal, but that “this is a decision that will take a lot of time, community input and thought.”

“I share the same concerns and issues that the community does,” Quirk said.

Quirk said his office will hold “several community meetings” if the club’s membership votes to accept the proposal.

Stamato concurred that the public’s input would be integral to the process.

“I do have concerns about [protecting] the state parkland,” Quirk said. “This is not a decision that will come quickly.”

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