Few zoning battles in Baltimore County have reached the fever pitch of that over "The Heights," a luxury high-rise proposal that has pitted its developer and local businesses against homeowners opposed to development of one of the last swaths of vacant land in Pikesville.
Developer Howard Brown wants to build two high-rises - one 15 stories, one nine stories, with condominiums costing as much as $2 million - on 36 acres of surplus land from Druid Ridge Cemetery on the northeast side of Park Heights Avenue at Old Court Road.
Brown has taken his lobbying efforts to the pages of the Baltimore Jewish Times, with several full-page advertisements promising an "exquisite lifestyle" with a "breathtaking view of a perfect landscape."
The Sept. 8 ad appeared to be a challenge to County Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz with its headline, "A Luxurious Future May be Just 32 Days Away." The "32 Days" is a reference to the Oct. 10 deadline for Kamenetz, who represents Pikesville and Randallstown, and the council to decide whether to give Brown and his company, David S. Brown Enterprises, the zoning they need for the 275-unit project.
Topic dominates meeting
Tuesday night, debate over the project dominated a zoning hearing at Milford Mill Academy. The council was scheduled to hear comments on 79 other zoning issues, but nearly half the speakers gave them an earful - pro and con - about the Heights. From the stage Kamenetz was poker-faced, giving no hint of his decision on the project or the strain he's under.
"I've received tremendous pressure from both sides. I will try to do what is best for the community," he said later, declining to say how he will vote. By tradition, the rest of the council will go along with Kamenetz's votes in his district.
In addition to the ads and public testimony, Brown's company has sent letters to "Friends of the Heights" urging them to lobby Kamenetz because "Time is running out!"
Brown, one of several people testifying for the project, told the council his project is a "smart growth" initiative to revitalize the older community of Pikesville and add $150 million of property to the county's tax base. Later, in an interview, he said his ad campaign was not meant to pressure Kamenetz, but to "demonstrate there's a market" for the luxury condos.
He said he has 175 people who want to buy the units, which would sell for $275,000 to $2 million.
Brown and his supporters say the project is needed for wealthy "empty nesters" who don't want to leave Pikesville.
'Death knell of Pikesville'
Stanley Ginsburg, president of Floors Etc. in Pikesville, told the council that rejecting the Heights development would sound "the death knell of Pikesville."
But more than 40 people stood up in opposition. Many of them spoke out, saying they were worried about increased traffic and development of one of the last large green spaces in Pikesville.
Marcia Greenfield, who lives in the Fields of Stevenson across Park Heights Avenue from the cemetery, said she worries about the impact on traffic.
"It sometimes takes 25 minutes to go one block. It's a pity to think what would happen in the future," she told the council.
David Glickman, president of the Longmeadow Association, a community of 118 homes across from the cemetery, said "parkland is what is compatible" to the neighborhood, rather than high-rise condominiums.
He later said he is concerned about the water runoff, automobile exhaust and traffic the new project could bring.
Although most homeowners opposed the project, one, Jimmy Rosenfield of the Fields of Stevenson - a longtime friend of one of the developers - asked the council to "give the Heights project a fair chance."