Just when Towson-area residents were becoming comfortable with a proposed housing development on a 12-acre property in their midst, the possibility of a parklike oasis for the site has been floated temptingly before them.
The Baltimore County Planning Board voted Thursday to allow the county's Department of Recreation and Parks to decide if a park is feasible for the vacant parcel on Regester Avenue at Overbrook Road.
Board members cited a potential conflict with the Towson Open Space Plan as the reason for their about-face as to what should go on the land -- said to be the last available open-space property in the area.
The plan recommends that the land be all park or mixed park and residential.
Westbrook Development Inc. has proposed building 19 single-family houses to be called Regester Village on the parcel bordered by the Stoneleigh, Anneslie, Loch Hill, Glenmont-Glendale and Idlewylde neighborhoods.
"We expected the board's decision," said Westbrook President James Rubenstein. "Our expectation is that they [the recreation department] will not pursue it . . . when they find out how expensive it would be to develop it."
John F. Weber, director of the county recreation department, has promised to make a speedy decision to avoid delaying the proposed housing project. "The housing development is one of the better ones that you've seen over the years," Mr. Weber told a group of residents Monday at one of two community meetings last week. Westbrook's president held a meeting Wednesday to explain his development proposal.
Mr. Weber is expected to submit his decision to the planning board in 30 days with cost appraisals and the time frame for acquiring the property, owned by Genstar Stone Products Inc.
Westbrook has a option with Genstar on the property, which has been for sale for about five years. A Genstar spokesman would not disclose the price of the former cement plant site.
Plans for the housing project call for brick-front houses costing from $140,000 to the high $160,000s. They would range in size from 1,700 square feet to 2,600 square feet and be built on quarter-acre lots.
The houses on the sloping property would be divided between two cul-de-sacs, with separate entrances off Regester Avenue and Litchfield Road. The developer also has promised to donate 6.6 acres to Baltimore County for open space along the Herring Run stream that runs through the property.
Many of the 80 residents who attended the developer's meeting were skeptical of his plan to build only 19 houses. The property's zoning allows for more than three times that number. Mr. Rubenstein explained that he could not suddenly change his proposal unless he went before the county zoning office with another plan.
On Monday, about 100 residents listened to Mr. Weber explain the recreation department's position. Many told him of a need for ballparks and other play areas for their families. "The majority [of the residents] seem to want the park," said John Keenan, president of the Idlewylde Association. But Mr. Weber said that even if the county can't develop the property right away, "Do you save that 12 acres for public space? That is the issue."
He added that $20 million to $25 million was needed to acquire necessary park land in the county but that only $7 million was budgeted. He also acknowledged that he did not know when development funds would be available. "I'm not here to try to sell you into making this a park. . . . We're trying to determine priorities," Mr. Weber said.
Several residents in the audience were adamantly opposed to any park plan. Vandalism, beer drinking and marijuana smoking at the vacant lot made them wary of such a setting, they said. "With a park, we'll have 100-fold this type of thing there," said John Kogler of Queens Ferry Road in Glenmont.
Susanne Curry, who has lived on Queens Ferry for all of her 37 years, said vandalism was prevalent on the wooded property. "If they build homes, it will keep the value of the neighborhood up," she said.