Owners seek zoning revision on Green Spring Valley parcel; Change would exempt land from recently passed limits

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Owners of the Greenspring Racquet Club -- their development plans blocked by county law -- are hoping to exploit a zoning loophole that will let them build a proposed 242,000-square-foot office building and parking garage at Falls and Greenspring Valley roads.

William and Loretta Hirshfeld want Baltimore County to change the zoning on their 5.5-acre parcel to a designation exempt from a law passed by the county last fall governing the height of buildings next to rural areas.

As a first step, the Hirshfelds -- whose property is near the gateway to the scenic Green Spring Valley -- will ask the county planning board this week to find that it is in the public interest to permit a hearing on the property's zoning.

The tactic faces a number of hurdles: the county's planning staff is advising against a hearing, and the County Council, which voted overwhelmingly for the law limiting high-rises next to rural lands, would have to give its consent to a zoning hearing before the Board of Appeals.

Even if the hearing is granted, the developers would have to prove that the current zoning is a mistake or that the neighborhood has changed so much that a zoning change is necessary.

The Hirshfelds' plan to raze the racquet club for the new project has been the center of controversy since last fall when the County Council, worried about the expansion of commercial development in the area, enacted legislation putting tougher restrictions on such development.

The law -- supported by residents concerned about increased traffic -- requires that any building taller than 35 feet and within 750 feet of a rural conservation area must be approved by a county hearing officer.

The law exempts areas designated for development, including White Marsh and Owings Mills.

Two major projects were affected by the new law: the Hirshfeld proposal, and an eight-story office and retail complex proposed by Foxleigh Enterprises at the adjacent Green Spring Station.

The Hirshfelds filed suit in federal and state court last month charging that the law deprives them of the right to develop their land.

Now the Hirshfelds are asking that the zoning on their land be changed from "Business Major" -- a category that allows shopping centers, car dealerships and other intense business uses -- to the more restrictive "Office and Technology" zone, intended to encourage economic development around growth areas and town centers.

Properties in the Office and Technology zones are not affected by the law limiting the height of buildings.

The Hirshfelds' lawyer, Julius W. Lichter, said the Office and Technology zoning would allow his clients to build their project while upholding the law. Lichter will present his arguments for a hearing at the planning board meeting Thursday. The request probably will be voted on in two weeks.

Pub Date: 3/02/99

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