Expanding Villa Julie


Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt had a tough call to make last month. It turned out to be an odd call, too.

Villa Julie College, the private four-year school in Greenspring Valley, requested a special exception to expand onto adjacent land previously zoned for agricultural use. The local gentry fought the plan. They said the expansion and the resultant traffic increase would harm the pristine environs.

Mr. Schmidt produced a decision that left each side claiming victory and admitting defeat at the same time. Who won? Who lost? Who knows. Both parties are still wondering whether to appeal.

In his 31-page ruling, the commissioner granted the special exception for the 98,000-square-foot expansion. Score one for Villa Julie. But he also said the student body could not be permitted to grow by more than 5 percent a year, or about 3 percent below the school's current rate. Score one for the gentry, who sought to limit enrollment growth. (This part of the ruling might lead some to feel that the zoning commissioner overstepped his bounds by dealing with an issue -- the size of a college -- that comes under the jurisdiction of the Maryland Higher Education Commission.)

Mr. Schmidt also said Villa Julie could build a state-approved sewage treatment plant on the campus -- another point for the school -- but he decided that the facility could not be as large as the college had proposed. In case you've lost track, the score is now tied.

Rather than take this game into overtime, both sides ought to shake hands, go home and let the matter stand. It's traditional among north countians to man the barricades at the first hint of development in the area, and in some cases they're justified. Yet, Villa Julie's plans appear less threatening than the residents make them out to be. The new buildings will stand behind current campus structures and thus be out of sight from Greenspring Valley Road. As for the threat of increased traffic at the all-commuter college, school officials say class times will continue to be staggered to prevent or at least minimize congestion.

The Greenspring Valley, Mr. Schmidt stated in his decision, is "an agricultural prize of Baltimore County." By the same token, Villa Julie, with its outstanding record of quickly placing graduates in productive jobs, has proved a valuable member of the community for four decades. The zoning commissioner's ruling might seem odd and unsatisfying to some, but it should clear the way for both the school and its rural setting to carry on peacefully as prized features of the county.

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