A developer asked Westminster’s planning commission for leniency to build apartments closer to neighboring houses. Now a petition, signed by more than 900 people, is protesting the construction of the apartments at all in the Furnace Hills neighborhood.
The proposed apartment complex would be located on a 5.3-acre site called the Clark Farm Properties, located off of Mulligan Lane and east of WTTR Lane. The developers are Burkentine Builders.
Bryce Burkentine, vice president of land acquisitions and real estate, said the complex includes 35 residential units and one meeting room that would be open to the community. The apartments would be rented at market rate.
Opponents of the development project have gathered under the slogan “Save Furnace Hills.” The petition, on Change.org, had about 950 signatures as of Saturday afternoon. Residents gathered for a neighborhood meeting to discuss their opposition Jan. 23 and planned another for the following Thursday.
Burkentine said Burkentine Builders has been working on community outreach with nearby homeowners and is willing to talk with them if they reach out.
At a Nov. 14 meeting of the Westminster Planning and Zoning Commission, the developers sought a leniency to allow them to construct one of the buildings closer to the existing homes nearby.
According to a sketch plan submitted to the commission, the distance from the existing homes to the building would range from about 181 feet to 196 feet.
In city code there are compatibility measures stating that no building can go up within 200 feet of the existing dwellings, except for another single-family detached dwelling. But the code also lays out that the planning commission can use discretion to increase or decrease the requirements “in instances in which the adjoining property or properties will not be adversely affected by such increase or decrease.”
The Planning & Zoning Commission voted to grant the leniency.
Some homeowners in abutting properties are frustrated that they were not notified about the vote to relax the 200-foot rule. They felt left out of the process that determined how close the apartment buildings could be built to their homes. The petition writer called the omission “unethical and possibly illegal."
According to Westminster’s Department of Community Planning and Development, in response to an email from the Times, the law does not require adjoining property owners to be notified.
Petition signers listed several reasons for signing. Some include fear of a reduction of their property values; worry that an increase in the volume of traffic on Mulligan Lane where police have already placed speed cameras; opposition to any development in Carroll County whatsoever; and concern whether there are sufficient resources such as police, fire and EMS service, and classroom space to support the occupants of the apartments.
For the project overall, Burkentine said they believe the project is right in line with what is allowed in the zoning for the Clark Farm Property.
The zoning is Planned Development - 4 (PD - 4). According to city code, the zone is for “relatively low density types of residential structures around the edge of the City,” and one of the permitted uses is “multiple-family dwellings up to three stories in height.”
The formal site plan for the project has not yet been submitted to the city.
Burkentine said a representative will be at the meeting after the site plan is submitted to answer questions that the planning commission or community might have. They do not yet have a timeline nailed down, he said.
Mark Depo, the recently named director of community planning and development for Westminster, wrote in an email that, “At such time a site plan application is submitted for development of the subject property, City and County staff will review the site plan application for compliance with all applicable laws. Following City and County staff review, the site plan will be sent to the Westminster Planning and Zoning Commission for action. The Mayor and Common Council do not review or take action on site plan applications.”
He pointed to Section 164-211 of city code for specifics on the standards that must be met.
For multiple-family dwellings like an apartment, developers have to submit a “Plan Review Transmittal,” which ensures that copies of the site plan are sent to more than 20 review bodies, such as the city’s public works, police and fire, Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., and the school system’s facilities director. A copy of the form is available on the city website.
Although it is unlikely that the legality of the apartment complex could be challenged because it is a permitted use, the site plan would represent a chance for Westminster residents to comment on specific aspects of the project such as traffic volume or outside lighting.
Depo wrote, “Once a site plan is submitted, members of the public can address their comments/concerns to the Department of Community Planning and Development, for the City of Westminster at firstname.lastname@example.org.”