The Baltimore County Planning Board voted last night to temporarily hold back development of a piece of the Cromwell Valley, in hopes of saving all of the last expanse of open space near Towson.
But the board's action was illegal, said David M. Meadows, an attorney for property owner Frederick C. Eck Jr. The board either has to refer the development back for zoning approval, or begin boundary surveys and purchase it, he said.
It was a lack of any money to buy the land that forced the county's Department of Recreation and Parks and its Office of Planning and Zoning to -- reluctantly -- advise against stalling development of the land, officials of those departments told the board last night.
Pointing to photographic vistas of the valley, Planning Director P. David Fields urged the board to "see the open nature, how the land falls from Cromwell Bridge Road" as it runs along a ledge in the hillside above the Minebank Run stream valley.
"The master plan clearly says if at all possible to acquire the whole of the Cromwell Valley for public open space," he said. But after reviewing the damage to the view and traffic hazards that would accompany the proposed development, Mr. Fields was forced back again and again to the "distressing" fact that there was no money to buy it.
Board members talked enthusiastically of finding help from private preservation groups, however, before voting unanimously to place a reservation on the property for 180 days, rather than the usual 18 months, to allow the county to try to find a way to save the land for open space.
The property, known as Brookview Farms 3, is one of the three largest pieces of undeveloped land remaining in Cromwell Valley. Its 26 acres, off Cromwell Bridge Road near Loch Raven High School, is zoned for one house an acre.
The master plan designates the remaining land in the valley as open space and parkland -- a conflict the planning office called to the attention of the two-man County Review Group that was considering the proposal earlier this year.
In February, the review group referred the development to the planning board -- and raised again a long-standing question: Does the master plan supersede the comprehensive zoning plan that was passed by the County Council in 1988?
Mr. Meadows says no.
Members of the Eck family have built Brookview Farms 1, a development of 62 houses, and has plans approved for Brookview Farms 2, which is to have about 40 houses. These parcels are on the northwest side of Minebank Run, which flows into the Gunpowder River and on into the Chesapeake Bay. Brookview Farms 3 lies east of these, between the stream and Cromwell Bridge Road.
About one-third of the 700-acre Cromwell Valley is developed, but farther east, toward Loch Raven Reservoir, preservation efforts are under way on two other tracts.