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Board rejects Colvista appeal for rezoning


In a stunning decision that could end efforts to build an ambitious 1,500-unit housing subdivision near Loch Raven Reservoir, the Baltimore County Board of Appeals yesterday threw out a rezoning case brought by the landowner.

That was not the only bad news of the day for the owner, Security Management Corp. The Maryland Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court, also served notice that it would not hear a company appeal in a suit against the County Council for denying a zoning change for the same property in 1992.

The three-member county Board of Appeals made its decision at the end of Security Management's case, granting a motion -- filed by the county people's counsel and local residents opposing the rezoning -- that the board lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

The motion relied on a section of the county zoning law stating that no petition for rezoning should be received if the area to be rezoned is within 200 feet of a reservoir property.

"The Board of Appeals decision was important for the protection of the reservoir and its watershed," said Peter Max Zimmerman, people's counsel.

Attorney J. Carroll Holzer, who represented the Greater Sparks-Glencoe Community Council, called the board's decision "courageous."

But G. Scott Barhight, an attorney for Security Management, said he was surprised by the ruling and that his client would appeal. "We obviously disagree with the board's interpretation of the zoning regulations," he said. "The county charter gives the board the absolute right to hear zoning reclassification cases and nothing in county law can take that authority away from the board."

Security Management was seeking to rezone 155 acres of a 215-acre tract from watershed protection classification to a high-density urban residential classification, and 1 acre to a business zone. Its proposed 1,500-unit hillside development, known as Colvista, was to consist mainly of townhouses and condominiums to be built on the southeast corner of York and Phoenix Roads.

Key county agencies, though praising the design, nevertheless opposed the rezoning because of the site's proximity to the reservoir. The development plan showed a 200-foot buffer between the area to be rezoned and the reservoir property.

But Robert O. Schuetz, appeals board chairman, indicated that the area subject to the rezoning case -- under his interpretation of the law -- had to be the whole 215 acres as a single parcel, and that abutted the reservoir property.

Mr. Schuetz said Security Management couldn't artificially subdivide the parcel and rezone part of it. The other two members agreed. The decision was given orally, and is not official until issued in writing.

Paul Hupfer, past president of the Sparks community association, said the decision will go a long way in protecting watershed land throughout all of the north county.

Security Management had contended in the unsuccessful lawsuit that its constitutional and civil rights were violated when the County Council denied a request for a change during the countywide rezoning process in 1992.

The privately held company's principal stockholder is Victor Posner, a Miami investor originally from Baltimore who built a reputation in the business world and in courtrooms for acquiring companies and taking assets for personal use.

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