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Future use of Catonsville site to be discussed at community meeting

Joe Gochar touches part of a historic mill located on a property in Catonsville that he has worked to preserve as open space.
Joe Gochar touches part of a historic mill located on a property in Catonsville that he has worked to preserve as open space. (Photo by Noah Scialom)

The future of an 11.01-acre wooded parcel of land at the end of Maple Avenue in Catonsville, the site of a historic mill that dates back to 1850, will move a step closer to being determined next week at a community meeting.

The meeting will be held in the lower-level meeting room at the Catonsville public library, 1100 Frederick Road, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. It is being  hosted by Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the area, along with NeighborSpace of Baltimore County, which seeks to preserve open space located within the urban rural demarcation line (URDL). The URDL is a line that separates areas where water and sewer utilities are located from rural areas that lack that infrastructure.

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Areas within the URDL are more heavily developed, so the organization seeks to protect open space from development, according to its website.

"The intention of the public meeting is to make sure we get input from the entire community to determine the future of the property," said Quirk, a supporter of the organization. He would like to see the land preserved as passive open space, he said.

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"I think for Smart Growth development to work, we need to balance open space and development inside the URDL," said Quirk, who co-sponsored legislation with County Councilman David Marks in 2011 to qualify NeighborSpace as a community benefit under Planned Unit Developments.

NeighborSpace has received county support and received $50,000 in funding from Baltimore County, as outlined in the fiscal year 2014 budget.

The organization has been trying to acquire the property known as "Saw Mill Branch" since 2008, according to Barbara Hopkins, executive director of the organization. They hope to preserve the land as open space and protect it from development, Hopkins said.

The land, purchased by Baltimore City in 1921 to be used as a water filtration plant was closed in 1924 and forgotten, according to Maryland Historic Trust records. The land was purchased by Baltimore County from Baltimore City for $1 in 2012 and the deed restricts future use of the land without the approval of NeighborSpace.

The history of the site was submitted to the Maryland Historic Trust by Catonsville resident Joe Gochar in 2013. The wooded property, located south of Frederick Road and north of Patapsco Valley State Park, was owned by Peter Hause, a veteran of the War of 1812. He sold it to Daniel Vondersmith in 1859 and it became the property of the Catonsville Water Company in 1886, the records show.

Some residents who live on Maple Avenue, the only road with access to the land, are concerned that preserving the land will bring unwanted traffic to their street.

Those residents sent a petition to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on Sept. 23, 2011, asking that the property be preserved as a natural watershed/wetlands buffer, that no access to the land be offered by the county and that no signage or publicity be placed to direct outsiders to the area, according to the petition.

The street with 41 houses has no curbs or sidewalks and children must walk in the street to get to the bus stop on Frederick Road, said the petition, written by Eileen and Bruce Leaman, residents of Maple Avenue.

"In all communication dating back to the petition, the administration stressed that the purchase was made to ensure the city could not sell the land to a developer. We know it has been Councilman Tom Quirk's goal to protect the community from that kind of development," said Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler. "We look forward to working with the community and NeighborSpace to determine what is best for all parties involved."

The site is bordered by the Patapsco Reserve development, the Hilltop community and Patapsco Valley State Park. Richmond American Homes, builders of Patapsco Reserve will grant an easement, but that doesn't solve the issue of access, Hopkins said.

Hopkins said the issue of access to the site is one that the organization would like to address at the meeting.

"The real issue is the safety and security of our neighborhood," said Eileen Leaman. "The concern that I have is that no matter what they do, it's going to impact us on Maple Avenue."

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So far, 23 residents have signed up to attend the meeting, Hopkins said. Residents are asked to sign up in advance for the public meeting on the organization's website at: http://www.neighborspacebaltimorecounty.org.

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