More than a decade after a Glen Burnie developer envisioned transforming the overgrown fields and woods near the Baltimore-Annapolis railroad tracks into a modern housing community, his plan is another step closer to fulfillment.
His goal to expand the fledgling Fox Chase community five-fold seems fine to most of the area homeowners -- as long as he includes plans for access to the adjacent B & A Hiker-Biker Trail that will keep visitors from having to cross private property.
Leonard J. Attman just received the county's green light to build the third phase of Fox Chase. The community now encompasses 120 homes on 34 acres within walking distance of the newly completed Glen Burnie stretch of the hiker-biker trail.
The head of Attman Properties Co., one of the more prominent development firms in the Baltimore-Annapolis corridor, intends eventually to expand the community across another 115 acres of vacant land between the bike trail and Southgate Elementary School.
He has submitted sketch plans for two additional phases calling for 274 town homes and 20 single-family houses, along with 161 clustered and non-clustered homes, to the county Office of Planning and Zoning.
Although Attman's proposal would swell the size of the existing Fox Chase community, few residents appear concerned by a traffic influx. They're more worried that hordes of new bicycling enthusiasts will flood the neighborhood.
"Once those houses are built, we'll probably have even more people riding by here every day," said Jack Henlehy, who lives on a dead-end street next to a hotly disputed entrance to the bike trail.
Henlehy and his neighbors decided to temporarily padlock the entrance gate after a steady stream of cyclists passed their homes once the trail was finished in early August.
The move infuriated bicycling fans from surrounding neighborhoods, who used the entrance as a shortcut to avoid riding 2 miles along busy streets to the nearest public intersection.
Homeowners in the already completed first two phases of Fox Chase maintain their children were endangered by the cars and bikes streaming to the trail. Since the entrance can only be reached by crossing private property, the community association voted to at least temporarily lock the gate to discourage visitors.
"Even people in the community can't get in now," said Southgate resident MaryBeth Leatherbarrow, who has been forced to ride her new bike through the neighborhood instead of along the trail.
"I bought this when the trail opened," she added, pointing to her shiny 10-speed. "I used to ride there even when it was a mud path. It was one of the most wonderful things, really peaceful."
Frustrated by the community association's decision, residents of neighboring Southgate have asked Attman Properties to include a public entrance to the trail in one of the next development phases.
When a representative of the development group was invited last week to discuss the Fox Chase expansion, Southgate residents besieged him with questions about creating another entrance.
"Most of the questions and controversy ended up about access to the bike trail," said Dolores Provins, secretary for the Southgate Trust for the Improvement of Neighborhood Government, the community group that sponsored the Sept. 10 forum.
Herbert Kishler of Attman Properties promised the developer would meet with Jack Keene, chief of planning and construction for the county Recreation and Parks Department, to develop another entrance to the trail.
Keene said the county also wants to persuade Attman Properties to set aside land in the fifth phase of Fox Chase for a park between the community and bike trail. Recently revised sketches for the fifth phase show 161 single-family homes on 47.8 acres.
Fox Chase residents will see construction crews laying concrete long before a new park or even another entrance to the bike trail opens. Since Attman received approval Aug. 30 to build the third phase, he plans to move ahead with extending Hospital Drive into the planned development within the next months, said county planner Frank Ward.
The construction will mark the end of nearly four years of wrangling over extending Hospital Drive, Ward said. Attman initially wanted to avoid the hassle and cost of tying the street into Foxwell Road. But the county remained firm, and he eventually agreed.
In a faxed response to questions about the expansion of Fox Chase, Attman said he intends to start building the looped road within the next month. Construction of the 120 homes that will sell from $180,000 to about $225,000 is slated to begin next spring.
The biggest drawback to completing the final two phases is the impact of opening 455 new units in an area with crowded schools, Ward said. Attman could be forced to wait under a county ordinance to guarantee adequate public facilities if enrollment in the neighborhood schools surges past their designed capacity.
Enrollment in Southgate Elementary is expected to reach 524 students this year, just 106 shy of its 630-student capacity. Old Mill High School also is nearing its 2,335 capacity with an anticipated 2,121 students this fall.
"Capacity in the schools will be the big issue," Ward said. "He can't do the project unless there enough available seats."