When the members of the Baltimore County Planning Board recently considered developer Nicholas Mangione's proposal to build 50 luxury homes and an 18-hole golf course on Hayfields Farm in the north county, they replied forcefully and unanimously: No way.
Earlier, the county Office of Planning and Zoning had issued a report containing this strong statement: Not only should the historic and environmentally sensitive farm remain untouched, but also it deserves more restrictive zoning.
Mr. Mangione awaits county approvals for the higher-density zoning his housing proposal requires and the special exception he needs to construct the golf course. He already has failed twice to change the zoning so he could develop the property. Here's hoping he takes a third strike. The fact is, Mr. Mangione has a documented history of numerous zoning violations in both Baltimore and Howard counties. Do Baltimore County officials trust him to do the right thing with one of the most important parcels of land in the valleys?
The current zoning would let Mr. Mangione put up 40 houses. However, he has maintained he must build 50 homes if he is to raise enough money to construct the golf course. County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger seems to have taken the position that he won't cheer on Mr. Mangione; nor will he play a visible role in blocking him. As a former north county councilman who has dealt with this vexing issue for years, he apparently would like to see it settled one way or the other. No doubt he likes the idea of luxury homes to improve the county's housing stock and tax base. A new golf course might likewise sound appealing, though another private course won't ease the county's severe shortage of public courses.
Meanwhile, valley residents have taken to the barricades, as they do whenever they deem that a building plan threatens to open the valleys to mass development. While this is generally a commendable stance, it would be less hypocritical in this case if certain residents had not stated they would sell their properties if the Hayfields proposal is approved. So much for preserving the pristine farmland they claim to cherish.
In any configuration -- 40 houses, 50 houses, with or without a golf course -- the proposal is wrong for this property. The Planning Board and the Office of Planning and Zoning have said so. Now the zoning commissioner and the county Board of Appeals need to say so, too.