A Baltimore County administrative law judge is expected to make a final decision late next month on the highly contentious town house development proposed on Halethorpe’s Maple Avenue.
During a series of online hearings last week representatives from the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS) and the Baltimore County Department of Parks and Recreation (DPS) approved the project. The county’s approval comes after new environmental impact variance requests were submitted in September by project developer Mark Levy of H&H Rock Cos.
Last year, a group of residents strongly opposed the plan that calls for 196 town houses on a 72-acre tract at 4100 Maple Ave. Developed by Elkridge-based H&H Rock Cos., the project also would include a convenience store, gas station and dog park.
The site, which formerly housed Good Shepherd Services, a school and treatment facility center for adolescents, was sold to H&H Rock in 2019 for $7.5 million.
Last week, Administrative Law Judge Maureen Murphy listened to testimony from county agencies, the developer’s expert witnesses, Halethorpe Improvement Association (HIA) representatives and concerned residents during three days of online hearings. The planned development, named Southern Crossroads, has now had a total of six online hearings.
Murphy is expected to make a decision about whether to approve the project on Jan. 27.
Michael Viscarra, a professional engineer for the DPR, said all issues regarding the property were resolved during the department’s review.
“Everything public and private has to be built to county standards and we worked through an easement issue ... and any other issues were resolved also,” Viscarra said.
Many residents stated frustration after a July development plan hearing was rescheduled to Sept. 23. Murphy issued a postponement to resolve community concerns about stormwater management due to developer-submitted revisions.
Jeff Livingston, who testified for the DEPS last week, addressed the community’s concerns of flooding at the property.
“The developer was able to meet not just the minimum standards for stormwater management but they also wound up going above and beyond ... to incorporate into their design some practices that would help to slow down the release of any water coming into the site,” Livingston said.
Levy’s first expert witness, Brandon Rowe of Bohler Engineering, testified on Dec. 1 that the development team met with community representatives at the development site to review flooding concerns.
“That meeting coupled with our discussions with DEPS led to the development team agreeing to review and provide quantity stormwater management to manage either the 10-year or the 100-year storm [flood] events,” Rowe said.
Quantity stormwater management involves holding water back to slow it down, he explained.
“The intention is to make sure the proposed improvements do not increase the runoff ... once the 182 units are constructed,” Rowe said.
“By agreeing to provide that management of the 10-year and 100-year events for the proposed improvements the developer is going above and beyond what is required per the Baltimore County stormwater regulations,” Rowe said.
Levy’s second expert witness was John Canoles, a consulting ecologist for Eco-Science Professionals, Inc. He evaluated roads, streams, wetlands and conditions of the specimen trees on the property.
Canoles also helped compile the environmental impact variance requests for the development team. The forest buffer and forest conservation variance request applications were officially approved by the county on Oct. 14.
Variances to cut down 51 specimen trees to accommodate the project were also approved by the county, according to Livingston.
“The forest conservation act requires a variance for the removal of specimen trees and in this case it was necessary to impact specimen trees because there are a lot of trees scattered throughout the site — basically there wouldn’t be any way to develop without some level of specimen tree impact … there’s 127 specimen trees on the site and the proposed development plan will result in the removal of only 51, which is less than half and many of those trees are in poor condition already,” Canoles said.
Shannon Fren of Halethorpe questioned the trees’ removal.
“For specimen trees to be cut down and the numbers that they’re doing and have approved to do is very concerning,” Fren said.
On Dec. 2 and 3, HIA representatives and community residents testified about the proposed development’s impact.
“We’re are not high-priced lawyers, engineers or expert witnesses, we don’t have a lots of experience in legal matters and administrative hearings — we are residents of Halethorpe and we’re passionate about our neighborhood and we take personally responsibility keeping it pleasant,” said William Carter, HIA vice president and a 29-year resident.
Carter advised Levy to implement street safety measures based on community input, address off-site stormwater management concerns and provide updated plans.
Tiffany Wiseman, whose home on Maple Avenue is near the project, gave testimony on a proposed trail that will ride alongside her property line.
“Adding this pedestrian trail with no buffer between my home and the trail has a negative impact on my property value … among other things that the trail will cause is crime, water runoff (and) liability (issues),” Wiseman said.
Wiseman also provided drone footage of roads near Halethorpe Elementary School to highlight potential traffic congestion concerns with the new development.
Casey Jackson, a resident of Summit Avenue, echoed similar sentiments during emotional testimony on Dec. 3.
“An influx of 182 homes with multiple family members and multiple vehicles exacerbates the existing road, traffic and pedestrian safety issues in our neighborhood … How is the county allowed to continue to exacerbate unsafe conditions that are not our fault?” Jackson said.
“I want my son to be able to safely ride his bike around our neighborhood and have sidewalks, safe streets, less traffic, especially less cut-through traffic.”
Closing arguments from the developer’s attorney, the HIA and other residents must be submitted to Murphy by 3 p.m. on Jan. 12, she said.
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An appeals process can be assessed if the proposed development is approved, according to Jerry Chen, project manager for development management at the Baltimore County Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.