Developer anxious for OK on conversion of former pool site Bid is awash in delays CENTRAL -- Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg


George F. Grogan gazes out the window of his office in the Westminster Professional Building and sees not the parking lot that others see, but a vision of "people in a wagon going to stake a claim to the land and build a house on it."

That's why he gave the name Farm Creek Homestead to the five-lot subdivision that he and his son Timothy want to build at the closed Middlebrooke Swim Club in Westminster.

The difficulty is that Mr. Grogan has his eyes on the horizon and gets impatient with mundane subdivision regulations.

He complained to the City Council in June that the development plan he submitted earlier wasn't moving through the planning process.

But Teresa Eller, the city's development review supervisor, says the initial preliminary plan for the project was so confusing that she had to ask for a clearer plan.

Mr. Grogan says he expected Farm Creek Homestead to be on the city planning commission agenda this month. But Thomas B. Beyard, city planning director, says the developer was never promised a specific date and the proposal will not be brought to the planning commission until the review is finished.

When Mr. Grogan starts talking about his dealings with the city government, he leans across his desk, finger jabbing the air and voice rising, to declare, "We're going to build five houses on that property, come hell or high water!

"I can jump through all the hoops, as high as they want. The only thing I ask is that when I come back down, there's action."

But Mr. Grogan also says he is so broke he can't afford to pay the taxes on the property, which makes it difficult to sustain a complicated subdivision process. The process for the site Mr. Grogan has chosen is more complicated than it would be for open fields because he is asking to change the use of a property that had been recreational.

The Middlebrooke Homeowners Association has not taken a stand on Mr. Grogan's plans.

"We're all, of course, very disappointed that the swim club is no longer going to be a swim club," said Wayne Shropshire, the association's president.

But the pool was never part of the common open space owned by the association, he said, so the group really doesn't have any control over its use.

Mr. Grogan, Timothy Grogan and Timothy's wife, Linda, bought the swim club in 1988 and ran it for three years before closing it. Mr. Grogan said the pool never made money and remained open only because it was subsidized by the family construction business.

"I was convinced I could bring it [the pool] back to life," he said. "I do that to myself sometimes, and sometimes I shoot myself in the foot."

Everyone had a good time for three years, but at the cost of long hours and no profits, he says.

Mr. Grogan said he filed a request for a demolition permit in August 1991 to reduce his liability for the pool. He told the council in June that he was sleeping in the bathhouse because the pool had beenvandalized. He says now he no longer is staying overnight at the pool.

City Clerk John D. Dudderar said he cannot approve a demolition permit that would lead to a change in the property's use until the developer gets approval to change the use. The area started as open space and "the people who lived in Middlebrooke all kind of bought into that plan," he said.

Mr. Grogan floated the idea of a town house development about one year ago, but says he never submitted a formal plan because he heard "through the grapevine" that neighbors were opposed.

He and his son then drew up the plan for five houses that would sell for about $130,000 apiece.

One month after filing the five-house plan, Mr. Grogan complained to City Council President William F. Haifley that his plans weren't moving. At Mr. Haifley's suggestion, the developer brought up the issue at the June 1 council meeting.

His complaint led to a meeting with the mayor and Mr. Beyard.

"[Mr. Grogan] wanted a hearing at the earliest possible time, and I was being pushed to give a specific date, which I never do," Mr. Beyard said.

But Mr. Beyard said promising a date assumes that all staff reviews and changes required of the developer will be completed on time.

For example, the planners want a cul-de-sac at the end of Farm Creek Road, which the houses will face. Mr. Grogan countered with a proposed T-turn that would require drivers to back up to turn around.

The T-turn would eliminate the prospect of "a racetrack" at the end of the street and would provide more space for grass in the front yards, he said.

"When they pull into the driveway, they'll be living the American dream," he said of potential buyers.

All subdivision plans must pass through 10 to 20 city and county agencies for review before a planning commission hearing is scheduled, Mr. Beyard said, and Farm Creek also will have to get City Council approval to turn part of the community open space into housing. Middlebrooke is a planned unit development, in which the developer was allowed higher density because an area was set aside for common-use open space.

City files show that Farm Creek Homestead was initially rejected by the county government's storm-water management reviewer because the subdivision plan didn't contain a design for handling storm water.

Mr. Grogan conceded that the requirements he has been asked to meet are reasonable. But he's not into regulations. "A long time ago, a man came down from a mountain with 10 guidelines on a stone tablet," he said. "If we follow those 10 rules, we don't need all these others."

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