A group of Timonium residents has organized in opposition to two residential development plans being considered by Baltimore County officials, criticizing the high number of homes slated for construction and the potentially adverse effects on local infrastructure, the environment and the character of the surrounding neighborhoods.
The Lanahan Meadows proposal entails the construction of 31 houses on quarter-acre lots next to the Villa Maria school on Dulaney Valley Road, and the Villas at Pot Spring proposal would place a community of 42 duplex units on Pot Spring Road by Merrymans Run.
“Save Pot Spring,” a coalition of both the Spring Lake Community Association and the Pot Spring Community Association, has become the primary organization rallying Timonium residents against the development plans. Their bright yellow signs have become a common sight throughout the surrounding neighborhoods in recent weeks as residents have joined email lists and attended community meetings in solidarity with the opposition.
District 3 Councilman Wade Kach has responded to Timonium residents’ concerns by introducing a measure that would downzone the parcels of land and thereby reduce the number of residential units that may be built on the properties by half. The county council will hold a vote on the issue by September 16th as part of the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process (CZMP) for 2020.
“They were using development rights that hadn’t been used yet and were bunching them all into these two developments,” Kach said. “Clearly increased traffic presents a problem. Plus, if you take a look at the schools in the area, they are above capacity already.” Kach says he expects the council to back his proposal.
The proposal, known as issue 3-062 of the CZMP, garnered nearly 48 public comments from March 30th through April 10th, 47 of which spoke in favor of Kach’s proposal. Fourteen residents debated the issue at a recent virtual Baltimore County Zoning hearing.
The developments are backed by Catholic Charities, one of the largest nonprofits in the state, and would generate revenues which proponents of the existing zoning designation have argued are essential to the organization’s charitable work.
“The sale of the land, which is land that Catholic Charities has owned for a long time, really, is part of our financial plan to fund the work that we do in our mission,” Christine Collins, a spokesperson for Catholic Charities, said. “We’ve worked to make sure that the proposed development would adhere to all the zoning requirements, to the environmental and natural resource concerns, and the concerns about quality of life. All of those concerns are addressed very well in the plans as they stand.”
The planned housing units have been marketed as empty-nester households, a move which developers believe will reduce the strain on the area’s roads and schools while complementing the neighboring senior facilities at Mercy Ridge and Stella Maris. Still, many residents remain skeptical of Catholic Charities’ willingness to address the concerns of local residents, with the number of houses planned for construction remaining the most prominent point of dispute.
“Some people are more concerned about the school overcrowding, some are more concerned about the traffic, some are more concerned about the environmental impact,” said Jeff Myers, a spokesperson for Save Pot Spring. “My biggest concern is that they’re taking advantage of technicalities in the code and the permitting regulations to cram as many houses on to small pieces of real estate as is technically allowed, but it’s not in keeping with the surrounding community.”
Save Pot Spring has acted as a conduit between residents, local officials and developers, negotiating directly with Catholic Charities on several occasions at the recommendation of Councilman Kach. These negotiations were largely unsuccessful, according to Myers.
“They were not willing to back off on the number of houses whatsoever, so we haven’t really had any more negotiations,” Myers said. “If they had put 10 or 12 houses on that 20 acres they have there, this opposition probably wouldn’t have sprung up.”
Complaints from residents also highlight latent concerns over the vitality of local infrastructure. The intersection of Timonium and Dulaney Valley has long been designated as a D-grade intersection by county officials, indicating significant traffic delays and hazards during rush hour traffic. Comments from the Department of Public Works on issue 3-062 also note that developers may need to reinforce the existing sewer system as it nears capacity.
Other statements from residents convey fears of losing the neighborhood’s pastoral charm as the once-quiet community continues to cede ground to urban sprawl. For many, the preservation open spaces, forested areas and Loch Raven watershed is necessary to protect the pastoral character of the neighborhood.
“I don’t want to do anything that’s going to put more pollutants into the streams and these reservoirs,” Kach said. “I’m very interested in keeping Northern Baltimore County rural.”
The Baltimore County Department of Planning staff has opposed Kach’s downzoning proposal on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the Baltimore County Masterplan, a set of regional development guidelines published annually. Residents have argued in favor of issue 3-062 on similar grounds, however, with Spring Lake Community President Kent Miller calling the proposal “appropriate, desirable, and consistent with the County Masterplan 2020.”
Another community organization, SavePotSpring.Org, succeeded in reducing the scale of a proposed gated community in Pot Spring in 2011, though the current Save Pot Spring organization has no affiliation with the group.