Proposed luxury high-rises put Pikesville on offensive; Groups, residents launch campaign to fight rezoning request


The penthouse condominium would be perched 15 stories above Pikesville, with a great room the size of some houses, and walk-in closets bigger than many living rooms. Not one, but two home offices. His-and-her master baths, housekeeper quarters and more.

All this could be yours -- for $2.1 million.

If 7,000-square-foot condominiums and seven-figure price tags seem enormous, consider the abundance of community opposition to developer Howard Brown's proposed high-rises and the political force behind the project. Nearly everything about the plan is on a grand scale.

"It does seem that way," said Arnold F. "Pat" Keller, Baltimore County planning director. "All of this is bigger than life. His proposal is bigger than life, and the opposition is proportionate."

Brown, an Owings Mills builder and developer who is remembered for his demolition of the 18th-century Samuel Owings House, wants the county to rezone 36 acres of surplus cemetery property on Park Heights Avenue near the Baltimore Beltway.

He needs the zoning changes to build two luxury high-rises -- one 15 stories, the other nine stories -- with two six-story mid-rises and eight "garden homes" on property that is owned by the operators of Druid Ridge Cemetery.

At least a half-dozen community associations have written to the county opposing the plan.

"When I heard about it, I said, 'You've got to be kidding me,' " said David Glickman, president of the Long Meadow Association, who has lived across Park Heights Avenue from Druid Ridge for seven years. "One of the reasons we bought this house was we thought they were never going to build over there. It's a cemetery."

Pikesville-area residents concerned about increased traffic and damage to the environment have written more than 70 letters complaining about the project. None of the hundreds of zoning requests filed as part of the county's comprehensive rezoning process has attracted as much attention.

"It's my No. 1 issue," said County Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat who will decide the 80 rezoning requests in the county's 2nd District. Kamenetz said he has met with opponents, and with representatives of the developer.

He also met with Hanan Y. "Bean" Sibel, chief fund-raiser for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and chairman of the county Revenue Authority. Residents opposed to the high-rise project privately say they are concerned about the political influence behind the proposal.

But Kamenetz said that although Sibel "advocated for the project," he feels no pressure.

"I've down-zoned and denied the most powerful people in the county, so it's nothing new to me," he said, noting that four years ago he denied three rezoning requests from Brown, a prolific developer who is a prominent philanthropist and a Ruppersberger supporter.

"I put no pressure on Kevin," Sibel said. "I didn't tell him I would or wouldn't support him based on his decision."

Sibel's son, developer Steve Sibel, is a partner in the high-rise project. The elder Sibel said he has no financial interest -- other than in possibly owning a condo.

Sibel is the type of resident that Brown hopes to attract to "The Heights," as he has dubbed his project. Inspired by upscale condominiums in southern Florida, the 275-unit high-rise project would be marketed to well-off empty-nesters who want to move from single-family homes to condominiums with luxury amenities -- and be near their friends, relatives and houses of worship in the Pikesville area.

Last month, Brown's company, David S. Brown Enterprises, ran two advertisements in the Jewish Times promoting condos "arriving in Pikesville, summer 2002." He said the ads attracted 75 responses.

Prices would range from $275,000 and $300,000 for condominiums in the mid-rises to $2.1 million for the penthouse condominiums. Those units would have 1,500-square-foot great rooms, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of -- the Beltway. Or the cemetery below.

"You're not buying the view as much as you're buying the lifestyle," said Arthur Adler, a partner in the project.

Peggy Stoler, who lives across Park Heights Avenue from the proposed high-rise in the Field of Stevenson development, wondered about the view's appeal, asking: "Would you want to live over top a cemetery and watch people being buried all day long? That's kind of goofy."

Brown said he would meet with community groups to gain support for his project.

Neighbors say adding more cars -- and more entrances and exits -- to the stretch of Park Heights between the Beltway and Old Court Road would create traffic nightmares. They say the project will mar the stretch of grass and trees -- including the cemetery, its duck pond, and the Suburban Club golf course -- along Park Heights Avenue.

Although the cemetery is private property, it's one of the few open spaces in the area, and residents treat it almost as a park. Some said the county should zone the property to preserve it as open space.

George G. Perdikakis, director of the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, said the developer would likely have to design forest buffers and protection for the Western Run stream, which runs through the cemetery.

"They have to do a lot of work in here in order for this project to go through," he said.

The proposal, like others in the county, is being considered by the county's planning board.

The board will make a recommendation, but Kamenetz, with approval from his council colleagues, will have the final word in October.

Brown said if the zoning doesn't change, he will build a development of 72 houses. It is inferior to the high-rise plan, he said, but, "We're going to develop the property one way or the other."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad