Residents turned out in large numbers at two meetings in October 2014 designed to inform the public. Baltimore County held a Community Input Meeting (CIM) at Franklin High School on October 6, 2014, and the Greater Greenspring Association hosted a follow-up meeting at St. Thomas Church on October 14, 2014. At both meetings, serious concerns were aired by neighbors. In response to those concerns, the Greater Greenspring Association (GGA) has retained Towson land use attorney, J. Carroll Holzer to oppose the project. The Valleys Planning Council and residents of Timberfield in the Valley (the neighborhood including Garrison Forest Rd., Walnut Ave., Nancy Ellen Way and Hunting Tweed) has also joined forces with the GGA.
Among the concerns is the proposed density, small lot size, increase in traffic, and a proposed traffic circle at Garrison Forest Road, Walnut Avenue, and Associated Way. The 157-acre site has already been intensively developed with a number of community buildings/ recreation facilities, and offices, as well as over 440 senior apartments. In an agreement between the Associated Jewish Charities and the County, certain restrictions were placed on the property in exchange for an upzoning in 1992, which allowed the apartments and limited the number to 400. Under the agreement, access from Garrison Forest Road was to be very limited. While the community is supportive of the JCC and appreciative of the services provided, many believe that adding 56 houses to the site and developing a roundabout at this intersection is going too far, and not in keeping with the agreement. The Associated plans to get a development plan approved and then sell the land to a developer.
A number of people wrote checks on the spot at the October 14 meeting where attorney J. Carroll Holzer and GGA president Tom Finnerty described the proposed development and the county approval process. Mr. Holzer also discussed how the community can organize and oppose the Project.
The Associated had one year after the CIM to submit a development plan. Three days before the deadline, on Oct. 2, they submitted a plan. The only alteration was that the traffic circle at Walnut Avenue and Associated Way that was part of the original plan has been removed.
After three hearings between Dec. 2015 and Mar. 2016, Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen made his decision in April, 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.
The second and third hearings before the administrative law judge, Judge John Beverungen, took Feb. 3 and March 11. Attorney J. Carroll Holzer, retained by the Greater Greenspring Association and Valleys Planning Council, entered a contract into evidence made between The Associated and Baltimore County when the property was rezoned in 1992, from DR-1 (residential, one house per acre) to OR-1 that permitted construction of a 400-unit senior housing complex (Weinberg Village) and a two-story office building. The contract provides that if the Associated sold any of the land in question, they would consult with the community and that zoning would revert to DR-1. County officials acknowledged at the hearing not knowing about the 1992 agreement in considering the plan. The Associated also did not abide by its agreement to consult with the community. Questions were also raised by Mr. Holzer concerning whether the county had properly analyzed the whether The Associated had enough land to justify the density.
The roundabout was in the original plan that the Associated presented at the Community Input Meeting on October 6, 2014. Because it aroused strong opposition from the community, they quickly removed it. But at the February hearing a county traffic official said he thought it would be a good idea. Apparently that is why the judge restored it to the plan.
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.
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.
PRESS COVERAGE OF THE APPEAL
How was the community informed initially? What have they been told by The Associated so far?
The county requires only that owners of adjoining property be informed. Therefore, only residents whose property borders the 157-acre Associated property received a packet with information about the meeting. The Greater Greenspring Association and Worthington Park Association were also sent packets. The packets included two large plat maps, a notice about the CIM on October 6th, and various preliminary documents that had been filed with county at that time.
So even people who live a few houses from Garrison Forest Road were not aware of the plan unless they happened to see a notice published elsewhere. The Associated, which normally posts large, noticeable signs at its main entrance on Gwynnbrook to promote events such as College Fairs and Holiday Gift Sales, posted only one sign at Associated Way that was not legible from the road. Nor did they include information in the email newsletter that goes out regularly to JCC members. To all appearances, they have made only the minimal effort required by law to engage and inform the surrounding communities, including their many Jewish neighbors, a point which particularly bothers the numerous members of the Jewish community who live there.
At the CIM on October 6th, the Associated's engineer and attorney presented a plan for 56 homes on "up to .2 acre" at the corner of Associated Way and Walnut Avenue. (The engineers acknowledged that lot sizes for homes east of Garrison Forest Road are a minimum of one acre and a typical Worthington Park home is on a lot between .55 and .65 acre. Some Worthington Park homes have larger lots.) They stated that like Worthington Park, the project would use public water, and that the units would be comparable in size to a typical Worthington Park house. A traffic study had not yet been completed, though it would be required by the county when the plan is officially submitted. The county schools have not yet been asked to determine the impact of the homes on school overcrowding. A fireflow test would also have to be done.
Larry Rosenberg introduced himself at the CIM as a volunteer for the Associated with a background as a developer himself. In response to questions from community members who expressed concerns about their property values if these homes were to be built at this density, he asserted they would be highly desirable because people today would rather have more house and less land to maintain, and that such homes at that location would command prices of $700,000 to $1,000,000. At a subsequent meeting with the Worthington Park Association that occurred a few weeks later, the Jewish Times reported that Mr. Rosenberg told the group that he estimated the selling price to be $500,000 (see "Proposed Development on JCC Property Sparks Concern" 11/17/14). This leaves the impression that these figures are rather fluid. As a point of comparison, as of November 24, 2014, homes with over 3,000 square feet of space on .63 to 1 acre on nearby Faulkner Dr. and Barnstable Ct. were being offered for $410,000 and $430,000 respectively. A larger home on Beecham Ct. on 1.4 acres was being offered at around $545,000. A 2,700 square-foot home on Nancy Ellen Way on about 1.4 acres was listed for $429,000. Assuming that most sellers expect to ultimately accept less than their asking price, the question is, given the choice, will people really pay about $100,000 more to live in such close proximity to their neighbors and to a four-story 442-unit apartment complex, even for a new home? (See current listings for homes for sale in the area on Zillow.com.)