June 28, 2019 update: Unfortunately, the appeal to the Court of Special Appeals was not decided in our favor. After consultation between the Greater Greenspring Association, Valleys Planning Council, members of the community who joined the appeal, and our legal counsel, we determined that with only one more legal remedy left, and slim odds that we'd even get a hearing, that we'd invested enough money in the fight. We succeeded in delaying the project for three years, but now we need to take it to the court of public opinion. If you would like to read the opinion, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll send you a PDF.
But here are the takeaways:
• The opinion dodged the issue of the illegal agreement between the County and the Associated in 1992, as did all the previous opinions going back to the Administrative Law Judge who first heard our case. Carroll Holzer, our attorney, firmly believes that what the County agreed to in that agreement was illegal and constitutes “contract zoning” which is against the law. It was meant as a compromise at the time, and promised that the property would not be used for further development or residential development. Of course with this 56 houses plan, The Associated breeched that agreement, nor did it follow any of the steps outlined in 1992 for notifying and working with the community.
• The basic reasoning of the appeals court seems to have been: You don’t have enough expert opinions to justify your position that the density goes against the zoning, or that the Associated is counting some acreage twice that they’ve already used to permit their previous building projects.
Invest in the future value of your property, peaceful rural roads, and the quality of life you moved here for, and help us send a message to the Associated that this plan, and the way they have treated us thus far, is not acceptable. The community and organizations have been asking for a compromise because the feeling is the proposed use is too intensive for the site and the neighborhood – but that request is falling on deaf ears.
What is particularly disturbing in this case is that The Associated is a philanthropic organization, not a for-profit company, yet in this case it is siding with the interests of developers and business who profit from construction and development, who are waiting in the wings to profit from the sale of the land. It has devoted funds raised from the Jewish community for educational and charitable purposes in order to engage Venable, one of the most expensive law firms in Baltimore, in order to force through a plan that jeopardizes the quality of life and value of the most significant investment its neighbors own — their homes. And let's not forget that with 56 new homes will come the construction of a roundabout at Walnut and Garrison Forest Road, because that is a mandatory part of the development plan.
• Get the word out to your neighbors and encourage them to subscribe to our mailing list.
• Let your HOA or Community Association know this is a priority for you and you want them to take a stand.
• Contact Izzy Patoka's office and our political representatives and ask for their assistance in getting a better outcome for our community.
• Write to The Associated's executives, board and fundraisers, and to the media, and let them know how you feel about this plan.
What do we want?
We want the Associated to do something they have thus far declined to do: negotiate with the community to reduce the density of the proposed development to one more in keeping with surrounding neighborhoods, such as one home per acre on the 12-acre site.
January 5, 2019 update: The latest appeal of our case against the development plan for the 56 houses was made at the Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis. For the first time, our case was heard by a panel of judges from outside Baltimore County, and they asked the Venable attorney representing The Associated some pointed questions. Our attorney, Carroll Holzer, felt the hearing went well. A decision could take another month, another year, or anything in between. After that there is one more appeal possible.
February 4, 2018 update: The latest appeal to Circuit Court of Baltimore County was issued in December 2017 and upheld the prior decision of the Administrative Law Judge in 2016, to allow the Associated's development plan to proceed.
This outcome was not a surprise, nor is it reason to become discouraged. We still have recourse by continuing the appeal process in the Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis. After the decision was issued, community members met with seasoned members of the GGA, VPC, and attorney J. Carroll Holzer. The consensus is that it is not unusual for Baltimore County judges to uphold decisions made by Baltimore County agencies. However, at the Court of Special Appeals, the case will be heard by a panel of judges from outside Baltimore County, and such panels tend to give a more objective analysis of the legal merits of the case. Therefore, it was agreed we should continue the appeal and raise the remaining funds needed to do so.
Mr. Holzer filed an appeal in the Court of Special Appeals in January 2018 to begin the process. The appeals process is expected to take between two and three years, which may further delay potential sale to a developer.
The attorney for the Associated, from the Venable firm, did not even make an argument against one of the salient legal issues raised by Holzer at the appeals — that in 1992-94 when the property zoning was changed from DR-1 (residential, one house per acre) to OR-1 (permitting construction of the senior housing and an office building), the Associated and Baltimore County entered into a contract that provided for the zoning to return to DR-1 if the Associated sold the land to a private developer. Mr. Holzer maintained that either this renders the zoning change invalid because it was contract zoning, which is illegal under Maryland law, or, if the contract is legal and valid, then it was violated by both the Associated and the County because neither of them followed the process outlined there for negotiating the future of the property with the community. Mr. Holzer further argued that County officials testified they had not considered the history of the 157-acre site as a whole in allowing the density of the parcel, and that the 56 acres the Associated is claiming can be counted toward their plan includes acres they have already used to offset other buildings and construction on the site.
The bulk of the expenses related to fighting this plan are behind us. We thank the community members who have stepped up to make donations to pay the legal fees.
November 1, 2017 update: The GGA attorney, J. Carroll Holzer, made strong arguments in front of Circuit Court Judge Alexander, alleging contract zoning and the lack of a comprehensive review of the 157-acre site and the many zoning actions that have taken place over the last three decades, which should have been considered since the AJC is segmenting the larger parcel to accommodate this project. In the administrative hearings at the county, agency staff testified that they viewed the project as a stand-alone project and did not review the larger property's history or the agreement that was put in place in the early 1990s. To which the lawyer from the Venable firm representing the Associated in the proceedings presented his counterarguments and then, actually said, "But so what?" He went on to explain that in their view, placing 5 homes per acre on the 12-acre site still conformed to DR-1, but the insensitivity demonstrated by his sarcastic choice of words to introduce that argument seemed emblematic to us of the arrogant manner with which the Associated has treated the surrounding neighborhood.
September 7, 2017 update: Read an article about the appeal and our neighborhoods' response published in the September 6 issue of The Baltimore Jewish Times here.
August 26, 2017 update: A court date for the appeal to Circuit Court of Baltimore County was set for August 21, 2017, then postponed by the judge to August 28 because he said he had not had time to review the documents and had a busy docket. Now it has been postponed again and we are awaiting word as to when it will be held. To be notified when the hearing is rescheduled, join our emailing list by sending an email with the subject "Subscribe." Please send a contribution to help pay for the appeal!
November 27, 2016 update: The appeal to Circuit Court of Baltimore County has been filed.
September 25, 2016 update: The Board of Appeals met on August 31 and officially issued their decision on September 16. As we expected, they agreed with the Administrative Law Judge that he did not have the legal authority to apply the 1992 contract between The Associated and Baltimore County. "Under this circumstance, we find that the Appellants must look to Circuit Court for Baltimore County to seek redress for [Associated Jewish Charities'] alleged breach of the Final Agreement." In other words, neither the judge nor the board felt they had the authority to rule on the legal implications of the contract, but that the Circuit Court would. They also supported the judge's decision to allow the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Garrison Forest Road and Associated Way. The appellants, Greater Greenspring Association, the Valleys Planning Council, and several community members, intend to follow through on appealing the matter to Circuit Court. We still need your donations to fully fund the appeal. The Country Crier published a summary of the decision which is reprinted here.
July 30, 2016 update: The Board of Appeals will hold their public deliberations on August 31. The public is welcome to attend and observe the proceedings. Public hearings are open work sessions which allow the public to witness the decision-making process. A written opinion will be issued by the Board afterwards.
June 27, 2016 update: The attorney engaged by Greater Greenspring Association, J. Carroll Holzer, presented the grounds for our appeal before the Baltimore County Board of Appeals on June 14, 2016. His first argument concerned contracts made between Baltimore County and The Associated in 1992 and 1993 during the comprehensive rezoning process. At that time, the County granted The Associated's request to rezone 25.5 acres from DR-1 to DR-16 to permit the construction of Weinberg Village senior housing and 10.5 acres to OR-1 to permit a 2-story office building to serve the Jewish community, with certain stipulations outlined in those contracts. One of those stipulations was that if the property was sold, certain members of the community would be contacted in advance, and the zoning would automatically revert back to DR-1 (DR-1 permits one house per acre; OR-1 permits 5.5 houses per acre). Holzer argued that this appears to have been illegal contract zoning between the zoning authority and the property owner, and hence the zoning change was illegal, which invalidates the 1992 comprehensive rezoning. And if in fact the contract zoning was not illegal, then the county officials who ruled on the appropriateness of the current development plan should have known what those agreements were and applied them. During the three hearings before the administrative law judge, those officials all testified that they either did not know about the contract or did not look at it.
Mr. Holzer also argued that the County failed to look carefully at which parcels of the larger 157-acre property surrounding the Jewish Community Center were used to justify 56 houses. An expert hired by Greater Greenspring found that The Associated plan counted parcel boundaries that overlapped with ones they had already used to justify the expansion of the Weinberg Village from the original 400 units that had been approved in 1992, to the 450 that were eventually built. The expert believes that at most, 38 lots are available, not 56, but that the County needs to go back through all the records and see which parcels have already been counted toward the buildings presently on site.
Mr. Holzer also challenged the roundabout at Walnut Avenue and Garrison Forest Road, which was in The Associated's original design, but removed immediately after the CIM in response to strenuous community opposition. The County official in charge of the traffic portion of the approval process testified before the administrative law judge that he recommended, but would not require, a roundabout. Citizens who testified at the hearings objected to the roundabout, yet the judge took it upon himself to require it as part of the plan.
Chris Mudd, the attorney from Venable who is representing The Associated, responded that the the 1993 agreement is recorded in the land records but the 1992 agreement was only acted upon by the County Attorney. He said since the agreements were not voted on or approved by the Baltimore County Council, they were not legally binding. This argument struck the observers present as odd, given that one would expect the County Attorney to have the authority to sign a legal agreement on behalf of the County. He also stated that even if the entire parcel is zoned DR-1, it won't change the density from 56 houses, because even though the development will put 56 houses on 12 acres, they have enough surrounding acreage to add up to 56 acres total. As for the issue of contract zoning, he said it is a matter for Circuit Court to determine if contract zoning exists in this case.
So whichever way the Board of Appeals rules, we can expect the appeal process to continue. Given that the process will inevitably postpone the sale of the land for at least three years, we would hope that The Associated would instead to choose to live up to its slogans of caring for the community and sit down with us to come up with a plan that is responsive to our concerns. Nobody would object to a development plan placing homes on lot sizes similarly to those of the surrounding subdivisions.
May 11, 2016 update: After three hearings between Dec. 2015 and Mar. 2016, Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen made his decision last month, approving the plan as submitted by The Associated, and in a surprise move, further mandating that the future developer build a roundabout at the intersection of Garrison Forest Road and Walnut Avenue "using stamped concrete, not pavers," and granting a variance "to impact approximately 800 sq. ft. of an existing Forest Conservation Easement." Furthermore, there is no provision in the plan to limit the new houses to ages 55 and older. Read more about the judge's decision here.
On April 27, Greater Greenspring Association, Valleys Planning Council, and five community members living in the adjoining Garrison Forest Road-Hunting Tweed community, filed an appeal of the judge's decision. We anticipate that regardless of the ruling of the Board of Appeals of Baltimore County, we have to be prepared to continue the process to the next level, which is Circuit Court.
December 11, 2015: update: The first hearing before the administrative law judge took place on Dec. 11 and was well-attended by community members opposed to the plan. Attorney J. Carroll Holzer, retained by the Greater Greenspring Association and Valleys Planning Council, is preparing for the next hearings, which will be in early 2016.
Nov. 5, 2015 update: The Country Crier monthly newspaper for November is arriving in mailboxes in our area. The lead article talks about the Associated Way development plan and the negative community reaction at the way The Associated has treated the its neighbors with regard to the process and community concerns about the density. The article states that The Associated planners estimate housing values of $600,000 to $700,000. After taking a quick look at Zillow.com, it's hard to imagine that homes packed 5.5 to an acre will bring those kinds of prices. A 4,000 sq. ft. home on 2 acres on secluded Serenity Way has been on the market for 144 days at $725,000 and hasn’t sold. Also currently listed: a 5-bedroom home on 1/2 acre in Worthington Park on Thoroughbred Lane near the proposed development, which has been on the market 11 months and isn’t sold at $489,800 -- which is priced some $15,000 lower than what it was purchased for in 2005.
Nov. 1, 2015 update: The Associated filed a development plan with the county three days before the October 6 deadline. We believe they waited until just before the deadline to try to defuse community opposition once they saw the community beginning to organize. The only change to the plan they presented last year is there is no longer a traffic circle. The density and housing configuration is unchanged. There is nothing in the plan restricting the housing to those 55 and older. Moreover, at the community input meeting in October 2014, the engineer asserted the houses would be 2 story houses that are "50 to 55 feet wide by 40 to 50 feet deep" which is "compatible" with the rest of the community. In other words, they'd be at least 2,500 square-foot homes, except instead of being spaced one per acre like the approximately 210 homes on the east side of Garrison Forest Road from Aston Court to Starlite Court, there would be 5.5 houses per acre. We are concerned about the impact of adding an additional 25% more households right off the intersection of Walnut Avenue and Garrison Forest Road.
Jan. 29, 2015 update: The Associated had yet to file a development plan with the county; no word as to why they have not. Thanks to contributions from the community, we are prepared to respond through our attorney when the time comes. In the meantime it was with some irony we read a message to the Jewish community from the director of the Jewish Community Center in the Jan. 22 Jewish Times that began, "At the J, we engage thousands of people every day following the fundamental value of kol arevim zeh lazeh: all Jews are responsible for each other." We certainly hope his colleagues at The Associated share those "fundamental values" and reconsider the development plan they presented at the Community Input Meeting in October 2014, which would be a disaster to their many Jewish neighbors.