Deadline is near to limit size of housing project


With a hearing on a proposal to develop houses on the Country Club of Maryland's golf course set for next month, a Baltimore County councilman says it is a "horse race" to get a community plan for the nearby Idlewylde neighborhood approved in time to limit the housing project.

The county's planning board decided to table the Idlewylde plan until its July 20 meeting, which means the earliest that the County Council could vote on it would be Aug. 7.

The public hearing on the country club development is scheduled for 9 a.m. July 7 and if necessary will continue at 9 a.m. July 14.

The Idlewylde community plan calls for creating additional buffers between existing houses and new developments, including the one proposed by the club.

The club wants to build 46 semidetached houses on about 16 acres, which club officials have said will help raise money to repair the 18-hole course and the stream that runs through it, reduce debt and ensure that the golf course has a future.

Residents are concerned about the loss of open space, traffic congestion, school overcrowding and drainage problems from the new development.

A committee of residents and local merchants completed a community plan last month that calls for planting more trees and improving storm drains. It also recommends rezoning the club's remaining 143 acres, along with 12 acres of nearby property owned by a garden center, for less dense development in the future.

It is unclear whether the planning board will hold a public hearing on the Idlewylde plan at its July 20 meeting. The board is waiting for a legal opinion from the county attorney about whether proper procedures were followed in drawing up the 49-page document.

A lawyer for the country club, David K. Gildea, wrote a letter to county officials in May questioning the legality of the community plan and calling it an attempt at "spot zoning."

Gildea did not return calls last week.

Arnold F. "Pat" Keller, the county's director of planning, said he's waiting for a written opinion from the county attorney on the legal issues with the Idlewylde plan. However, he said, it does differ from other plans because it "doesn't reflect county agencies' input."

"There's a lot of reflection, analysis and possibly further study that needs to be done," said Keller, adding that county planners won't have time to work on a community plan for Idlewylde in the near future.

"There's a limit to what we can do," Keller said. "It seems most equitable to finish what we've already started."

Some residents are upset by Keller's characterization of the plan, which they say was created with the help and guidance of a county planner.

"I thought the plan was very reasonable," said John Keenan, president of the Idlewylde Community Association. "It doesn't try to stop the development. Under it, the club could still put 32 houses in there. I think the plan tries to work with the county and the developer."

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, the Towson-Perry Hall Democrat who represents the area, said that at least three other community plans that have been adopted into the county's master plan were created using the same process Idlewylde used.

He said he's hopeful that the planning board will advertise and hold a public hearing on Idlewylde at its July 20 meeting.

Because it typically takes a hearing officer several weeks to issue decisions, Gardina said, "It's unlikely that the country club could be vested in the project - able to start construction and get their permits - prior to the end of July. But it's still very tight.

"This isn't the way to do community planning. The timing puts a lot of stress on everyone involved - the club, the community, the planning board and me," said Gardina. "Once the community plan is put in place, I think both parties should be willing to reach a compromise."

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