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Traffic safety concerns raised by opponents of proposed luxury apartment complex near Arbutus

An exhibit from the planned unit development application shows the site's proximity to nearby amenities, schools and services.
An exhibit from the planned unit development application shows the site's proximity to nearby amenities, schools and services. (Handout / Timothy Kotroco)

Traffic safety dominated the dialogue during a virtual community meeting regarding a proposed planned unit development and luxury apartment complex near Arbutus, attended by more than 200 participants Thursday night.

The planned unit development is being proposed by Catonsville developer Steve Whalen on a 5.4-acre parcel that abuts the two-lane South Rolling Road, where residents say traffic backups are “a nightmare” during peak hours, given the I-195 on and off ramps to the north, east and south of the property, Cheryl Tinelli said.

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A traffic study for the planned 164-apartment complex has not been conducted yet, but Whalen, who lives nearby on Foxhall Road, said he doesn’t believe traffic will be an issue, and that vehicles at the development’s single access point likely would move in the opposite direction of traffic flow.

It takes Tinelli an hour to drive home from I-195 to Sulpher Spring Road, she said.

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“You’re gonna add 300 more cars — it’s nuts,” she said.

And traffic hazards already exist there, another resident said. Cars are hit by oncoming traffic trying to turn on or off I-195, and cyclists who frequent the area and use the Soapstone trailhead of Patapsco Valley State Park directly across the road from the proposed development also have been hit, the Foxhall Farm Road resident said.

Motorists also cut through the Southwest Park and Ride just north of the parcel, some noted.

The site lies within a level-of-service “C” or better transportation zone, based on the county’s 2020 Basic Services map, attorney Timothy Kotroco wrote in an application.

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.

A traffic impact study would be required, along with a site plan for the apartments, if the planned unit development is approved.

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.

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 using the Park and Ride.

Whalen, who during the community meeting said his goal was to invite more millennials to the Catonsville area, estimates a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment would be leased at around $2,000 a month.

“We’re not buying that; we’re not paying that type of rent,” said Ryan Zentz, a Catonsville homeowner and self-identified millennial, and once a graduate student at UMBC.

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Whalen contends that data shows millennials would be willing to give up a “substantial portion of their income” for luxury living space and amenities.

Kayley Banker, a young homeowner who moved to Catonsville to be closer to her Annapolis job, said she would have been interested in renting an apartment with her husband. She was drawn to Catonsville, but said there was a lack of rental options.

County Councilman Tom Quirk, who along with the rest of the Baltimore County Council must approve the planned unit development application, had previously floated the notion of age-restricted housing for those 55 and older. A representative from Quirk’s office attended the virtual meeting.

Whalen maintained that the project benefited the community, citing as one asset the property tax revenue that would be generated, roughly $385,000 annually.

But some said the added benefits he touted didn’t offset the traffic concerns. Others suggested a project be built in an area that could benefit from the investment, like downtown Arbutus.

“If most people don’t want this, why would you go through with it anyway?” William Mengers asked. An online petition opposing the proposal has garnered more than 1,200 signatures.

Opposition is a knee-jerk reaction to any development proposal, Whalen said during the meeting.

“This is an opportunity we’re looking at,” he said, and one that would take a minimum of one year to make its way through the approval process. “I have no guarantee. The bottom line is that decision is made by the Baltimore County Council.”

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