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Zoning request draws fire; Balto. Co. planners, area residents oppose shift for development; Up to 518 homes envisioned; Critics fear project would strain schools, Johnnycake Road


Enough is enough.

That was Keith Rippey's first thought after hearing that a group of developers had requested a zoning change to build hundreds of homes on 100 acres of farmland near his new townhouse in western Baltimore County.

The county had a similar reaction. Fearing overdevelopment in the area, the Planning Department will oppose the proposal, which could bring more than 500 homes to the neighborhood off Johnnycake Road, northeast of Patapsco Valley State Park.

The proposed change -- from rural residential to higher density residential and office zoning -- would allow the development of the last large tract of farmland across Johnnycake Road from hundreds of new townhouses, condominiums and detached homes that have sprung up in the past 10 years beyond the heavily developed Security Boulevard area.

Rippey, who lives in a new development of 600 homes called Parkview Trails, began distributing fliers to his neighbors last month titled "Over Development in Our Neighborhood!"

News of the proposed development has spread through his community, sparking concerns that more houses will overtax narrow Johnnycake Road, create crowding in neighborhood classrooms and push out wildlife.

One homeowner left preprinted letters opposing the project on car windshields with a note urging residents to sign the letters and mail them to the county.

"They're going to build hundreds more homes. Where are they going to send these kids to school?" asked homeowner Julie Malone, who is a county schoolteacher.

"Education affects the resale value of homes," she said.

The rezoning request will get a public hearing before the county's planning board at 7: 30 tonight at Lansdowne High School.

The request will be one of dozens heard as part of the county's comprehensive rezoning process. Zoning changes will be finalized by the County Council in October.

A development group called Dogwood LLC has an option to buy the Johnnycake Road property. The engineer for the project, David Thaler, described the partners as "a small group of prominent and experienced developers" who "don't want to be identified by name."

Thaler said plans for the land are not complete, but that the developers "will be very responsive to the concerns raised."

The proposed change would allow the developer to build as many as 518 houses, or a combination of 295 houses and an office park, according to the county Planning Department.

Diana Itter, planner for the 1st Councilmanic District, said her office opposes the zoning change. County planners would prefer the land be kept a rural zone, allowing fewer homes surrounded by open space.

"We see this area as a transition between the [residential] zoning and rural zoning further west to Granite," she said, adding that area schools would be unable to accommodate all the children the project would bring to the area.

Dogwood Elementary School, scheduled for completion this summer to alleviate crowding at nearby Chadwick, Powhatan and Winfield elementary schools, will be near capacity when it opens. Charles Herndon, spokesman for the Baltimore County education department, said it appears Dogwood will open with 446 students, 60 below its capacity.

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