Revised development plan for N. Baltimore site OK'd; Changes ease worries over environment


The city's Planning Commission has unanimously approved a revised plan by Struever Rouse Homes Inc. to build 19 high-priced single-family homes on a wooded parcel in North Baltimore that is one of the city's most desirable undeveloped tracts.

The commission's action followed a staff report that praised Struever Rouse Homes for taking an "environmentally responsible approach" to developing the 9.2-acre site near Falls Road and Lake Avenue south of the Baltimore County line that includes hilly terrain and a stream.

The plan is a modification of previous proposals by the developer that called for up to 40 homes on the property -- a mix of single-family residences and semidetached homes. The earlier proposals drew vehement opposition from residents of surrounding neighborhoods, who complained that the proposal was out of character with the area and would create traffic and environmental problems.

Because of that opposition, City Council members representing the area declined in the fall to introduce legislation needed to allow the construction of semidetached units in an area zoned for single-family homes.

In February, Struever Rouse Homes -- an affiliate of Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, the urban development company -- unveiled its revised plan for 19 two-story homes priced between $295,000 and $400,000.

A representative of one of the neighborhood groups that had spearheaded opposition to the earlier proposals said yesterday that he was satisfied with the new plan.

"I'm happy that it ended up the way that it did," said Leigh Middleditch, president of Poplar Hill Community Association.

"The neighborhoods affected put a lot of time and energy in this process," he added. "When the developer acknowledged that a high-density development wasn't what they wanted, they came back with another plan. They put in a lot of time and energy to make the community feel comfortable again."

Sandy Marenberg, project director for Struever Rouse Homes, said he hoped to break ground on the development by the end of summer.

"I think everyone is happy," Marenberg said.

The company will ask the city zoning board for minor variances for the set-back of the houses, but does not expect a problem gaining approval, Marenberg said. The Planning Commission's staff supports the variances.

When completed, the project will generate projected annual city property taxes of $176,928, according to the commission's staff report.

The houses will be clustered on 6 acres and will be accessible by a private road. The remaining 3.2 acres will be put into a forest conservation easement -- twice what is required under city and state law, the commission's staff report said.

"The design of the project is environmentally sensitive because it encourages clustering the houses and not spreading them out," the report said.

Although the staff report acknowledged the Falls Road-Lake Avenue area is clogged with traffic, it said most congestion is from Baltimore County residents commuting to and from work.

"The impact from the proposed 19 homes will be minimal and will not change this situation," the report said.

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