Council approves zoning changes
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 12:32

Special session held in Towson on Aug. 28

by Nicole Rodman

    During a special session in Towson on Tuesday, Aug. 28, the Baltimore County Council approved a variety of zoning changes countywide, including proposals for the former Seagram’s distillery site and the Sparrows Point Country Club.
    Initiated last September, the Baltimore County Comprehensive Zoning Map Process (CZMP) is held every four years to address zoning change requests across the county.
    Going into last Tuesday’s vote, the county planning board recommended altering the Seagram’s site’s zoning from  a mix of major business  (BM) and low-density residential zoning (DR 1 and DR 5.5)  to an office building-residential zoning (OR2).

    Under OR2 zoning, the property can be used for residential development with supplementary office space.
    At last Tuesday’s session, the council voted unanimously to approve the zoning changes at the former Seagram’s site according to planning board recommendations.
    Seagram’s site owner John Vontran was pleased to see the zoning changes approved.
    “I’m glad the council took the positive view from the community that the property needs to be rezoned,” Vontran noted in an interview last week.
    There had been some community resistance to the rezoning proposal at CZMP hearings in March and June, with residents arguing that OR2 zoning would be incompatible with the neighborhood.
    Also, some residents voiced concerns about traffic and environmental issues surrounding redevelopment of the property.
    Now that the zoning change has been approved, Vontran is looking forward to moving ahead with plans to develop senior housing on the site.
    As part of the Maryland Department of the Environment’s (MDE) Voluntary Cleanup Program, he must wait until his cleanup plan (called a Response Action Plan or RAP) is approved by MDE.
    Once the RAP is approved, Baltimore County will approve a razing permit that will allow the property to be demolished.
    In the meantime, Vontran has hired exterminators to treat the site for any rats that may be nesting in abandoned buildings on the property.
    “We’re continuing to do what I said we would do,” Vontran noted.
    Another controversial local zoning change was the proposal to alter Sparrows Point Country Club’s zoning to allow for housing development on 40 of the club’s 274 acres.
    Prior to the rezoning process, the club was zoned for major business (BM), low-density residential (DR 5.5) and heavy manufacturing (MH IM) use.
    Approximately 25 acres of the property is protected from development as a part of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Watershed Area (zoned as RC20).
    While the country club initially requested more high-density housing (DR 10.5), the planning board recommended that the council change the zoning to a mix of low-density residential (DR 3.5 and DR 5.5) and RC20 zoning.
    Ultimately, the council decided to stray from the planning board recommendations, changing the club’s zoning to a mix of DR 1 and DR 3.5 low-density residential housing, some heavy manufacturing and RC 20 zoning.
    Sparrows Point Country Club president Angie Tavik said the approved zoning was not a surprise.
    “We didn’t get what we initially asked for, but we got what we needed,” Tavik noted during an interview on Tuesday.
     The club asked for high-density zoning so the county would have room to adjust the figures, she said.    
    A DR 10.5 zoning would allow for the building of at least 400 homes on the 40-acre site; according to Tavik, the club only plans to develop around 200 homes.
    As Tavik explained, the planned development has been in the works since at least 2006, well before the current economic recession.
    “There is a misconception; we are not developing for our survival,” Tavik said, adding, “We are developing to modernize and make a state-of-the-art facility.”
    Noting that “all of the money [from development] will go into the property, not to operate the facility,” Tavik and club marketing director Lillian Suliga noted plans to upgrade the golf course irrigation system and clubhouse.
    While they insist that the club brings in enough revenue to cover operating costs, Tavik and Suliga explained that funds are needed to renovate the club’s aging facilities.
    Now that the country club’s zoning change request has been approved, the next step is to find a developer.
    “We are entertaining offers,” Tavik noted.
    The club is also looking at applying for growth allocation that could allow for some building within the RC20 critical watershed area.
    According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website, “a local government may use a portion of its growth allocation to change a designation from Resource Conservation Area to either Limited Development Area or Intensely Developed Area.”
    In discussing plans for future development at the club, both Tavik and Suliga were quick to note that the “first shovel won’t be in the ground for at least two or three years.”
    Additionally, they assured that any development would be minimal, to take into account concerns of area residents worried about crowding, traffic and environmental  issues.
    For her part, Tavik is optimistic about the project, noting, “I understand neighbors ... [are] cautious about change, it’s the unknown, but I really think this would be a plus for Dundalk.”
    For more information on the CZMP 2012 process, visit the web at www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/planning/zoning/2012czmp/index.html.