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Genstar plans to get into land development 1st sites in Frederick, Baltimore Co.; paving to remain top concern


After decades of paving streets and parking lots, Genstar Stone Products Co. is paving the way for its first ventures into land development.

And the Hunt Valley-based company, which owns 3,000 acres in Maryland and some of the largest parcels of undeveloped business property in Baltimore County, is poised to become one of the region's largest land developers.

"They have land in some strategic locations," said county Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller III.

Company officials say that while Genstar will remain primarily in the sand and gravel business, the first parcels it develops will be in Cockeysville, White Marsh and Frederick.

Genstar plans to sell 7 acres north of Padonia Road to two restaurant chains and is seeking zoning changes to allow commercial development of 38 adjacent acres. The company also wants 205 acres in White Marsh rezoned for businesses.

Frederick already has granted Genstar's zoning requests to turn land along I-70 into a 470,000-square foot "power center" of large stores.

Genstar real estate director John H. "Jack" Gease said development is a natural extension of the company's stone operations. As quarries and mines give out, the company is left with land that it can reclaim, develop and sell.

Although he says land development will remain only a small part of Genstar's business, the company's properties are significant considering Baltimore County has few large vacant pieces of property left for business development.

The largest parcel is the 1,000-acre A. V. Williams property on Pulaski Highway. Investors want to build a NASCAR racetrack there, but development hinges on an extension of Route 43 to Pulaski Highway, and other issues.

Another large chunk is 388 surplus acres at Bethlehem Steel's plant in Sparrows Point, which county officials have expressed an interest in developing. Those plans, however, will have to wait until the state provides more information on potential pollution problems at the site.

White Marsh developer Nottingham Properties Inc. -- which grew out of a family quarrying business -- has about 200 acres of business-zoned land that hasn't been spoken for. And on the county's west side, an 800-acre parcel in Owings Mills will be available for development with the completion of the Red Run Boulevard.

Genstar's surplus land includes properties in Virginia and Tennessee, as well as 60 acres near its Cockeysville quarry and acreage that once was a sand and gravel processing plant in White Marsh.

Because restaurants are permitted on the Cockeysville site under existing zoning, Mr. Gease said it was easiest to begin development efforts there. Genstar has an agreement to sell two small parcels to the Bob Evans and Romano's Macaroni Grill restaurant chains, once the necessary permits are approved.

County officials have given a preliminary go-ahead for the Macaroni Grill project, but Genstar must move an old family cemetery before the Bob Evans property can be developed.

The restaurants will be opposite each other on the southern extension of Beaver Dam Road, which is to be complete by late 1997.

"We think that's a pretty good use of that property," said Eric Rockell, president of the Greater Timonium Community Council.

He and neighbors are waiting to see how Genstar will develop the rest of the property. The company is considering relocating its offices and developing about 25 acres east of the light rail line into a shopping center.

"We've gotten a lot of attention for the property," Mr. Gease said. "We are going to assure that the property is developed in a fashion that's appropriate."

The White Marsh site, while the largest, is the most problematic, he added. Only about half of the site is suitable for development and any sale of the property will have to wait until the White Marsh Boulevard interchange is completed next year.

Even then, development will be costly. Genstar estimates it will cost at least $1 million to raze buildings and several hundred thousand dollars more to restore streams on the property.

Mr. Gease said it will be some time before the company is ready to develop any more of its Maryland properties.

What promises to be one of the most challenging projects is decades away, when the 175-acre Cockeysville quarry gives out.

The huge hole might someday be converted into a lake or reservoir, Mr. Gease said.

When that time comes, Genstar could find itself not only a stone company, but a major developer of waterfront property.

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