The Baltimore County Council approved two bills last night that will enable the conversion of a 19th-century mill in Oella to luxury apartments.
The unanimous vote came after 18 months of protests from a group of Oella residents who worry that the 175 apartments planned for the mill on the Patapsco River will snarl traffic on the community's narrow, twisting streets. The $26 million renovation project was proposed by Forest City Residential Group of Cleveland.
But Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, who introduced the bills, said that without the measures -- which will exempt historic structures from some open space and parking requirements -- the mill could have been turned into a catering hall or restaurant. Moxley said those uses would bring more traffic to the area than apartments.
Because historic designation usually prohibits changes to the appearance of a building, it is often impossible to provide the same open space, parking and other amenities that are required of new construction, Moxley added. Without these bills, he said, it would be difficult to restore historical buildings.
Initially, Moxley proposed the bills as countywide measures, but last night the council approved amendments making them effective only in the Oella area.
Lydia Temoshok, a former president of the Greater Oella Community Association, said that opponents of the mill development plan will lobby County Executive James T. Smith Jr. in hopes of persuading him to veto the bill.
"It's very hard for me to understand how elected officials in Baltimore County -- and I'm speaking about Mr. Moxley, who introduced these bills -- could go against what has been an adopted resolution of the Greater Oella Community Association that we're against this inappropriately large development that would negatively impact public safety and welfare," Temoshok said.
Community sentiment on the plan is divided, however. Another homeowners' group in Oella voted in support of the development plan, and several residents spoke in favor of it at the council's work session last week.
A week ago, Smith toured Oella with Moxley, and the executive commented on the narrowness of the roads. However he plans to sign the bills, his spokeswoman said yesterday.
"The county executive is very supportive of this," said the spokeswoman, Renee Samuels. "These bills afford flexibility to help us preserve the virtues of our past."