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County to buy flood-prone homes in Overbrook

Baltimore County plans to purchase this flood-prone house at 317 Worthington Road as well as another at 810 Stevenson Lane, in order to clear the properties to help mitigate chronic flooding issues in the Overbrook neighborhood of Towson.
Baltimore County plans to purchase this flood-prone house at 317 Worthington Road as well as another at 810 Stevenson Lane, in order to clear the properties to help mitigate chronic flooding issues in the Overbrook neighborhood of Towson. (Rachael Pacella / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Baltimore County Council voted Tuesday to purchase two houses in a flood-prone portion of Towson's Overbrook neighborhood.

The houses, which will cost the county $750,000, are located at 317 Worthington Road and 810 Stevenson Lane, near a tributary to Herring Run.

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The stream and issues with culverts in the area are the cause of much of the flooding, which has gone on for decades, Overbrook residents told the Towson Times last July.

During the council meeting July 5, Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, thanked the county's administration for the agreement between the county and the homeowners.

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"I appreciate all the work that's been done," Marks said.

The purchase is the latest step in a process that began last year, when the community was offered seven options by the county to alleviate problems caused by flooding. Of the seven proposals, the option selected calls for purchasing six houses and is the most expensive at a cost of an estimated $3.08 million. Other options involved a combination of removing houses and widening culverts.

"Based on the options and the communities [sic] input the County determined that the purchase option best met the exigencies of the situation," Baltimore County Department of Public Works spokeswoman Lauren Watley said in an email July 6.

During meetings with the community last summer, county public works officials said that they prefered the option to purchase and demolish the six flood-prone houses.

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The properties voted on by the County Council on Tuesday are two of those six houses. Once purchased, the plan is to remove the houses. The plan for what will be done with those properties after the houses are razed in not yet in place, according to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

"Most likely it will simply revert to open space with plantings," Kobler said in an email.

Funding for the purchases is coming from the Baltimore County Acquisition of Flooded Homes capital project, according to a summary written by the Baltimore County Department of Permits, Approvals & Inspections. That county fund covers the cost of purchasing "homes that are subject to flooding whenever this option is less costly than repairing or replacing the associated storm drains, or in the event repair or replacement is impractical or not possible," according to the summary.

Del. Steve Lafferty, who represents Towson, said the community has questions about why the county decided to remove the homes, as opposed to other options like improving culverts in the area.

"You're moving friends, you're moving neighbors," Lafferty said.

The main problem causing flooding is that Herring Run Stream moves through the neighborhood in two directions and converges at a narrow culvert, or tunnel, under Stevenson Lane at the Country Club of Maryland, the Towson Times reported in a July 2015 story. Flash flooding occurs during heavy rains and the culvert is too small to handle it, causing backups.

The house at 810 Stevenson lane sits in an especially precarious spot, where a tributary to the north, a channel to the east and Stevenson Lane to the south all converge at the Stevenson Lane culvert, county officials have said.

Five of six homeowners have accepted the county's offers, according to council documents. In addition to those at 317 Worthington Road and 810 Stevenson Lane, the county is seeking to purchase 806, 808 Stevenson and 319, 321 Worthington.

The county will purchase former Overbrook Community Association President Josh Lashley's house, at 317 Worthington Road for $360,000. According to state real estate records, a 2014 assessment valued the 0.17-acre property and home at $238,400. The house was built in 1964, according to state records. Lashley purchased the home in December 2010 for $305,000, according to state records.

Lashley declined to comment on the matter via email on Tuesday, June 28, except to say, "We are still working through the process," Lashley wrote.

Neighbors are up to date on the plan, and Lashley will continue working through the process,he said in the email.

The second house, at 810 Stevenson Lane, is owned by Mark Anton Van Bavel, who bought it in March 2014 for $350,000, according to state real estate records. The county has proposed purchasing it for $390,000. The house was built in 1952, according to state records. The 2014 assessment valued the 0.30-acre property and house at $263,200.

In June of last year, a heavy rain storm washed the Van Bavels' shed into nearby Herring Run, according to a July 16, 2015 story in the Towson Times. Van Bavel and his wife, Lisa, salvaged the shed's contents and placed them under a tarp for protection. The tarp then washed away in a July storm. Erosion was also a concern for Van Bavel, according to earlier Towson Times stories.

The Baltimore County Department of Public Works said the cost of razing the properties is not yet known, according to the summary.

Council documents said contracts to purchase three more houses of the six could come before the County Council in the next two months.

This story has been updated.

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