Keep Our Valley Rural: Reduce the 56
Keep Our Valley Rural: Reduce the 56

Background Information

2014: Plan Introduced

2015: Plan Submitted, Neighbors React Negatively

2016: Neighbors Appeal Plan Before Administrative Law Judge

2017: Neighbors Appeal Plan to Circuit Court

2018: Neighbors Appeal Plan to Court of Special Appeals

2019: Result of Appeal

2020: What's next Is the Associated living up to its stated values?

 

About the Plan: Timeline from 2014-2020

October 6, 2014

Baltimore County Holds Community Input Meeting (CIM) at Franklin High School

 

Residents turn out in large numbers. The Associated unveils a development plan they plan to get approved by the county and then sell the land to a developer. They state that no developer has been selected, but a pre-approved plan will help it sell.

 

Serious concerns are aired by neighbors whose property borders The Associated and by current residents of the Weinberg Village. Larry Rosen, who identifies himself as a builder and volunteer speaking on behalf of The Associated, states that the houses will sell for $600,000 to $700,000 despite the small lot size and the fact that Worthington Park homes sell for around $400,000.

 

In response to questions, The Associated's development engineer Mark Vasvil acknowledges that no traffic study or school impact analysis has been done before preparing the plan.

 

October 14, 2014

Greater Greenspring Association Holds Follow-up Meeting at St. Thomas Church

 

Residents again turn out in large numbers. Among the concerns raised by those in attendance are:

• Proposed density

• Small lot size

• Increase in traffic

• 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.

• Under an agreement between The Associated Jewish Charities and the County, certain restrictions were placed on the property in exchange for an upzoning in 1992-94, which allowed the apartments and limited the number to 400. But over 440 were built, through a process opaque to the community.

• Under the 1992-94 agreement, access from Garrison Forest Road was to be very limited. The Associated promised at a community input meeting for the senior housing in 2004 that Associated Way would be gated and only opened for emergency vehicles. Without consulting the community, the gate had been eventually removed and the road opened to regular traffic.

• Many stated 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 community feels that in allowing the senior housing and office expansion, they have already given enough.

 

In response to those concerns, the Greater Greenspring Association (GGA) retains 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.

 

Attorney J. Carroll Holzer and Greater Greenspring Association (GGA) president Tom Finnerty describe the proposed development and the county approval process. GGA states that they will retain Mr. Holzer's services to oppose the project. Many residents write checks to the GGA on the spot.

 

October/November 2014

Neighbors Organize and Canvas Timberfield in the Valley, and The Associated Sends Representatives to a Meeting of the Worthington Park Homeowners Association (HOA)

 

Neighbors organize and canvas Timberfield in the Valley — the neighborhood including and east of Garrison Forest Road — and Aston Place. Residents who remember the rezoning of 1992 express ongoing bitterness at how they were treated by The Associated at the time, which left an impression of arrogance. The consensus is that the current plan is highly inappropriate and that the community feels blindsided by the site being utilized for private development rather than as an extension of the JCC campus.

 

November 14, 2014

Jewish Times Article Reports on Community Reaction and The Associated's Response

 

The Jewish Times publishes an article titled "Proposed Development on JCC Property Sparks Concern." The article reports that Larry Rosenberg and The Associated's CFO/COO Mark Smolarz discussed the plan at a meeting of the Worthington Park Homeowners Association (HOA).

 

Perhaps because his estimates of $600,000 to $700,000 sales prices were met with a dismissive reaction by attendees of the October 6 meeting, Larry Rosenberg considerably lowered his estimate when speaking to the HOA just six weeks later, according the article: "Home values could potentially increase with the new homes being priced around $500,000, Rosenberg told residents."

 

The article reports that Worthington Park HOA asked to restrict the new community ages 55 and older, and that Rosenberg told them planners "were considering targeting the development to that age bracket," and told the Jewish Times "We are listening to the community. It certainly is possible." (Ultimately, they do not submit such a plan.)

 

Under the law, The Associated has until October 6, 2015 to submit a development plan. The community watches and waits to see what happens. As time goes on, they hope this is a signal that The Associated has taken in their feedback and will present a more palatable land use.

 

November 2014 — September 2015

 

The Associated has yet to file a development plan with the county. GGA and neighbors wait hoping that their point has been made that the plan is inappropriate, but prepared to respond through the attorney.

 

October 2, 2015

The Associated Submits a Development Plan, Two Days Before the Deadline

 

Hopes that The Associated has heard the community and will respond to its concerns when it submits a development plan on Friday, October 2, just two business days before the deadline. The last-minute submission of the plan is viewed as a strategic move to defuse opposition once they saw the community beginning to organize. The only alteration to the plan presented a year ago is that the traffic circle at Walnut Avenue and Associated Way has been removed. The density and housing configuration is unchanged. 

 

November 17, 2015

GGA Public Meeting at St. Thomas Church

 

Emotions run high at a well-attended meeting to update residents about the current plans and to discuss their concerns. Cheryl Aaron, a GGA representative, states that The Associated's legal team is not returning phone calls from GGA's attorneys, who are attempting to open a dialogue. The overall mood expressed by neighbors is anger and frustration. They are urged to attend a development plan hearing on December 11 to express their sentiments to the Administrative Law Judge who will be deciding whether to approve it.

 

December 4, 2015

Jewish Times Article Appears Titled "Residential Revolt"

 

The Jewish Times publishes an article by Justin Katz about the November 17 meeting titled "Residential Revolt." In addition to summarizing the viewpoints of The Associated and the community members leading the meeting he reports:

 

• Ethel Barrish, president of the Worthington Park HOA, tells the reporter, "Worthington Park is not in favor of a traffic circle, but we understand that this decision is made at the county level. We also strongly agree that it should be a 55-and-older community." However, the development plan just submitted by The Associated has no mention of age restrictions.

 

• "Despite the Dec. 11 hearing quickly approaching, Smolarz said there is always time for negotiations if both parties are willing." This statement is belied by the fact that The Associated never responded to attempts to negotiate with GGA, Valleys Planning Council, and neighborhood representatives.

 

December 11, 2015

First Hearing Before Baltimore County Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen

 

The first hearing before the administrative law judge takes place and is well attended by community members opposed to the plan. Attorney J. Carroll Holzer represents the Greater Greenspring Association. Community members are startled when at least seven lawyers from the Venable firm walk in to defend The Associated, interpreted by those present as a power play to discourage the community by conveying that they will inevitably be outlawyered.

 

February 3 – March 29, 2016

Two More Hearings and a Decision from Judge Beverungen

 

The second and third hearings before the administrative law judge take place Feb. 3 and March 11. Attorney J. Carroll Holzer, retained by the Greater Greenspring Association, 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 Judge's Decision: On March 29, Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen approves the plan as submitted by The Associated. He states that he does not have 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.

 

In a surprise move, the judge further mandates that the future developer build a roundabout at the intersection of Garrison Forest Road and Walnut Avenue  "using stamped concrete, not pavers," and grants 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 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, in response to a question from the judge, a county traffic official said that while he would not require it, he would recommend it. Apparently that is why the judge restored it to the plan. 

 

April 27, 2016

Appeal Filed by GGA and Five Community Members

 

Greater Greenspring Association and five community members living in the adjoining Garrison Forest Road-Hunting Tweed community, file an appeal of the judge's decision to the Board of Appeals of Baltimore County.

 

June 14, 2016

Appeal Presented Before the Baltimore County Board of Appeals

 

The attorney engaged by Greater Greenspring Association, J. Carroll Holzer, presents the grounds for GGA's appeal:

 

• 1992-93 Contract between Baltimore County and The Associated

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 argues 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.

 

The County Did Not Check for Overlapping Parcel Boundaries

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.

 

Roundabout at Walnut Avenue and Garrison Forest Road

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.

 

Response from The Associated's Attorney:

Chris Mudd, the attorney from Venable representing The Associated, responded that 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.

 

August 31 — September 16, 2016

Board of Appeals Holds Public Deliberations and Issues Decision

 

The Board of Appeals meets on August 31 and officially issues their decision on September 16. They agree 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." They also support the judge's decision to allow the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Garrison Forest Road and Associated Way. The petitioners, Greater Greenspring Association and five community members representing the Timberfield in the Valley, intend to follow through on appealing the matter to Circuit Court. The Country Crier, a monthly newspaper circulated in Northern Baltimore County, publishes a summary of the decision.

 

November 27, 2016

Appeal to Circuit Court of Baltimore County Filed

 

September 6, 2017

Jewish Times Publishes Article "Associated Development Hinges on Court Decision"

 

An article by Justin Silberman reports on the progress of the appeal to Circuit Court, which is scheduled for October 31, 2017, and neighborhood reaction. One of the appellants, Helen Marcus tells the reporter, "'This situation breaks my heart,' because the JCC is where her kids went to daycare, attended after-school programs and represented Team Baltimore in the Maccabiah Games. Some residents suspect that The Associated has big donors and board members with development interests, Marcus said. 'Those of us who are not in that cohort, they don't really care,' she said. 'That just makes me feel sick inside.' Michael Raphael, 54, who lives on Aston Court in Worthington Estates, stopped making his annual contribution to The Associated after more than 25 years when Marcus informed him of the issue. He said only the developer and builder stand to benefit and that the surrounding Jewish community would suffer. 'My bottom line is that I do not believe this development plan demonstrates proper stewardship of the land.'" Teresa Moore of the Valleys Planning Council says "there would be little, if any objection over a restructured development plan that placed homes on lot sizes similar to the surrounding neighborhoods, specifically one house per acre. 'The community feels like [The Associated] has exploited the site and the agreement between The Associated and the county,' Moore said. 'We felt the county should have given this a holistic look before carving out a piece of land. Now, it's time for everyone to come together and do what's best for the neighborhoods.'"

 

 

October 31, 2017

Circuit Court Hearing Before Judge Alexander

 

GGA attorney, J. Carroll Holzer, presents his arguments alleging illegal 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 Associated 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.

 

Chris Mudd, the lawyer from the Venable firm representing the Associated in the proceedings presents his counterarguments but does 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.

 

After presenting his other counterarguments, Mr. Mudd then startles the community members in attendance by saying, "But so what?" He goes on to explain that in The Associated's view, placing 5 homes per acre on the 12-acre site still conforms to DR-1, but the insensitivity demonstrated by his sarcastic choice of words to introduce that argument seems emblematic of the arrogant manner with which the Associated has treated the surrounding neighborhood.

 

December 6, 2017

Judge Alexander Issues His Decision

 

Judge Alexander of the Circuit Court of Baltimore County affirms the prior decision of the Administrative Law Judge in 2016, to allow The Associated's development plan to proceed. The judge declines to rule on the contract zoning issue. 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. Therefore, GGA and community members decide to continue the appeal and raise the remaining funds needed to do so.

 

January 2018

Appeal Filed to Court of Special Appeals on Behalf of GGA

 

February 23, 2018

Jewish Times Article: "Associated Land Case Goes to Annapolis"

 

An article appears by Connor Graham. The Associated is reported as disputing claims that they are not interested in negotiating with the surrounding neighborhoods, "citing a series of neighborhood meetings that date to fall 2014, when concerns regarding traffic and other issues were discussed." However, as is documented in this timeline, there was never a "series of meetings" and only two occasions when representatives of The Associated faced the community: at the CIM in October 2014 and at the Worthington Park HOA meeting a month later.  Essentially, they misled the reporter, who duly recorded their statements unchallenged. Mark Smolarz, COO/CFO of The Associated is quoted as saying, "Our original intent for the property was to build a large office building to serve the needs of the surrounding community. As we no longer have the need for an additional facility, we decided to sell this land. We will use the proceeds to further our communal priorities." Evidently their "communal priorities" do not include the hundreds of existing households surrounding the site, which are heavily Jewish.

 

January 2, 2019

Court of Special Appeals Hearing in Annapolis

 

J. Carroll Holzer and the Venable attorney for The Associated appear before a panel of judges from outside Baltimore County and present their arguments

 

May 3, 2019

Decision Issued by the Court of Special Appeals

 

The Court of Special Appeals decides the case in favor of The Associated. The main takeaways from their opinion are:

 

 • The Court dodges 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 the case. J. Carroll Holzer, 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 to mollify an angry community and persuade the County Council to approve the zoning change they were requesting in order to build the senior housing and office building, 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.

 

• As to arguments about the density and whether The Associated was counting some acreage twice that they had already used to permit their previous building projects, the Court ruled that the GGA did not have enough expert opinions to justify the position that the density goes against the zoning.

 

At this point, GGA and community members met with Mr. Holzer, who informed them that continuing to the last level of appeal would cost thousands more dollars and that only 10% of cases filed are even accepted at that level so the odds of getting a hearing are extremely difficult. The community members decided that legal options had been exhausted.

 

WHAT'S NEXT: IS THE ASSOCIATED LIVING UP TO ITS STATED VALUES?

 

The Associated has until May 3, 2023 to submit a plat to proceed with the development. The community 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:

 

• Community members had expected that educational, recreational, or buildings providing services to the Jewish community would be the ultimate use of the property.

 

• The Associated has proceeded throughout this process with a shocking lack of transparency or openness to cooperation, even though they signed a contract with the County in 1992 that promised that they would. Of course, the County has also failed to enforce the terms of the contract.

 

• The Associated met only the most minimal requirements of the law in terms of notifying the community of the plan to sell the property for a private residential development. In contrast to large signs advertising other upcoming events at both the property entrances and within the JCC, one small sign was placed at only Associated Way, in writing that could only be read in the unlikely event that someone parked their car at the corner of the intersection of Garrison Forest and Walnut, that has no shoulder or sidewalks, and walked up to it. (See photo below; it is unclear when the graffiti further obscured it.)

 

• Although the sale of land that was deeded to The Associated to benefit the Jewish community as a whole to a private developer seems somewhat contrary to the ethics of a philanthropic organization, no one would object to a development plan placing homes on lot sizes similarly to those of the surrounding subdivisions. If the 12 acres had 12 homes, while nobody would be happy about adding more houses to our congested rural roads, overcrowded middle school, and stressed environment with increased stormwater runoff and overpopulated deer, 12 homes on 12 acres strikes most people as fair, given that the zoning prior to 1992 was DR-1.

 

• During neighborhood canvassing by community members in late 2014, residents expressed that while they had initially viewed the construction of the Weinberg Village senior housing complex with trepidation, its effect on the neighborhood has been minimal, although the intersection of Walnut and Associated Way would be much safer if Associated Way had remained gated as The Associated had originally promised. Certainly the Worthington Park HOA had been hoping for that option. Expanding Weinberg Village would be seen as an acceptable community-oriented use of the property.

 

• Eleven board members of The Associated as listed on the IRS 990 form currently found online are either developers or connected in some way to the real estate industry as mortgage lenders, insurers, or real estate lawyers. This raises the question: have commercial real estate interests overwhelmingly represented in the board membership had undue influence over the board's decision to sell the property to a private developer?

 

• The people who will reap the benefits of building 56 homes on the 12-acre site are not the largely Jewish surrounding community whose homes are already here, but the as-yet-unnamed developers and contractors waiting in the wings.

 

• The Associated is a community organization well supported by tax dollars and private donations, and now they are engaging in a for-profit development that harms the community that so generously has supported them. In that case, do they need or deserve our tax dollars and contributions?

 

• The actions and behavior of The Associated would not be surprising from a secular businessman for whom the profit motive takes precedence over all other considerations. However, they stand in stark contrast to the mission statement on The Associated website, reproduced in its entirety below:

 

Our values-driven mission and purpose

 

The Associated strengthens and nurtures Jewish life by engaging and supporting community partners in Greater Baltimore, Israel and around the world. We accomplish our mission by transforming our values into action:

One People/Am Echad – A commitment to Klal Yisrael, the link between Jewish people in Baltimore, Israel and around the world

Repair the World/ Tikkun Olam – Making a positive difference in the world through the pursuit of social justice

Respect – A diverse Jewish community that is respectful, accessible and welcoming

Education – Life-long Jewish learning and experiences

Engagement – Active participation of people in the many facets of Jewish life

Innovation – Creative approaches to solving community issues

Collaboration – A network of strong local and overseas partners that provide for the social service, cultural, health and educational needs of Jews in Baltimore, Israel and throughout the world.

           

            ( https://www.associated.org/leadershipandfinancials Accessed 11 September 2019.)

 

Source Materials Used to Compile this Timeline, Available on Request

 

• The official transcript of the Oct. 4, 2014 meeting compiled by Darryl D. Putty, Project Manager of the Baltimore County Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections

• Articles appearing in the Jewish Times

Opinions issued by the judges in the appeal process

 

PRESS COVERAGE OF THE APPEAL

Read an article from the May 2016 Country Crier.

Read an article from the September 6, 2017 Baltimore Jewish Times.

 

Spread the Word to Your Neighbors

Volunteers needed to distribute fliers, contact their neighbors and friends, write letters to the Jewish Times and other publications, and activities related to the appeal. Contact us if you can help.

 

Stay Informed

The sign that notified the community about the development plan in October 2014 felt like an example of The Associated's bad faith in letting the community know their intentions, since it was apparently designed to just meet the legal requirements yet obviously would be hard to see from the road. Meanwhile signs advertising other events such as the College Fair at the same time were in large, bold lettering visible from a passing car. (When it was spray-painted and further obscured is unknown.)

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