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A Sea of Yellow

 

 

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Daue: "I will extend an invitation to Dr. Spevak to hear the RPCL proposal."

Threat? Sixty smallish-lot houses instead of Keswick?

Tipton: Neighbors are afraid (video).

Guckert: No traffic impact (video).

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Click on images for multimedia or larger photos.

Multimedia: D.P. Munro.

Photos: D.P. Munro and Sally Foster.

Report on the October 14 Special Civic League Meeting

October 15, 2008

10 p.m.

A sea yellow — that was the only way to describe the standing-room-only crowd in the Roland Park Elementary/Middle School’s auditorium Tuesday evening, Oct. 14. Some 550 local area residents packed the room, most wearing day-glo yellow T-shirts sporting the slogan, “Neighborhoods Matter.” The purpose of the meeting was to allow the Baltimore Country Club and the Keswick Multi-Care Center to present their vision for the 17-acre tract of BCC land that Keswick intends to develop as a retirement and assisted-living center, and to unveil the preliminary Roland Park alternative plan. This, said RP Civic league President Phil Spevak, was a matter of league “due process.”

The occasionally testy meeting was characterized by an emotional crowd and, at times, thinly veiled warnings from the BCC/Keswick side. BCC Board President John L. Daue passed around a letter dismissing out of hand the Roland Park alternative plan: “With its uncontrolled access and potential for intensive recreational activities, the [Baltimore Country] Club would not favorably consider a sale for such uses.”

Mr. Daue told the amazed audience — “flabbergasted,” in the words of one — that “a park is just not going to happen.” And again, “Sale of BCC surplus property for public recreational uses will not be considered.” Asked why its membership considered a park to be “not compatible” with the BCC’s vision,” Mr. Daue once more repeated that “we are not interested in public open space.”

This prompted one Plat 1 resident to suggest that the BCC’s objection to a public recreational area was more to the “public” than the “recreational.”

Instead, Mr. Daue focused on what else the BCC might sell the land for, namely, the development of single-family homes. This was “not a threat,” he said, going on to state that the 60-odd houses would consume far more of the land than Keswick’s facility and generate more traffic. An accompanying schematic showed most of the land paved over by a large number of smallish-lot houses.

Architect Glen A. Tipton, with CSD Architects, said that senior facilities were too often stuck out in the suburbs. In contrast, the plan for the Keswick center would be for it to be “an integral part” of  the neighborhood. He insisted that the plans would be sensitive to Roland Park’s style and history, though he conceded that “neighbors are afraid of all this.”

Sensing the skepticism of the room, Traffic Group President Wes Guckert said that, if attendees had not liked what Mr. Tipton had said, “You sure as Dickens won’t like what I have to say.” Mr. Guckert described his company’s analysis of the traffic patterns resulting from the Keswick development, claiming that “it’s not going to have a traffic impact.”

Much of the discussion revolved around the BCC/Keswick need to get city approval for a land-use change by means of a “planned unit development” (PUD). Pursuing Mr. Daue’s theme that alternatives to the Keswick facility would be far worse for Roland Park, BCC/Keswick development consultant Al Barry ran through a list uses permitted “as of right” under R-1 (the current zoning status), which is to say, with no authorizing legislation required. Each of these uses, he contended, would be worse for the neighborhood: single-family homes, schools and places of worship. He particularly noted a PUD-requiring development initially opposed by North Roland Park some years ago. The neighborhood recanted, he said, once it become clear that the landowner would sell the property for single homes under R-1.

Volunteering for Roland Park, attorney John Murphy described the history of restrictive-use covenants and then R-1 zoning in the area, and dismissed BCC/Keswick claims that a PUD would not involve rezoning. The point of a PUD is to permit uses and development not otherwise permitted, with the distinction between this and rezoning being “theoretical.” Roland Park is a “fragile thing,” he said. To allow the Keswick development would be to put “temptation” before other developers.

Following this, RP Community Foundation President Ken Rice and RP Land Use Committee Chairman David Tufaro disagreed with much of what Messrs. Daue and Berry had said, stating that far fewer than 60 houses would be feasible on the land, perhaps 35-40, and that, even assuming 50 houses, the built-over square footage would be considerably less than that proposed by Keswick.

A PUD renders underlying zoning “meaningless,” said Mr. Rice, and would in this case be endlessly cited by future developers attempting to develop further areas of Roland Park. Rice pointed out that the Keswick development would be only a bit smaller in square footage than the downtown Legg Mason Tower and would indeed be bigger than Mondawmin Mall. The footprint would be about the same as the Ravens’ stadium.

Mr. Tufaro denied that the community would be unable to find the funds to purchase the land, describing funding capability of $1.25 to 3 million in community funds, $4 to 9 million in foundation and land-trust funds, and $0.5 to 2 million in public funds (potential total, $14 million, a higher figure than the $12.5 million agreed to by Keswick). “What’s good for communities is good for Baltimore,” said Mr. Tufaro. “Sell it to us.”

Lynn Heller, an RP resident and a member of the Baltimore Commission on Sustainability, presented the Roland Park alternative plan for the land, though this had been dismissed in advance by Mr. Daue. The plan would preserve as open space all 17 acres of the tract, she said, divided into five separate use areas. The land would be owned by the community, as are many other similar areas across the country, notably Sherwood Gardens in neighboring Guilford.

Despite one Blythewood resident’s complaint that the meeting had been “stacked” against BCC/Keswick, RP Civic League President Spevak read a letter from Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank, saying that the Roland Park process had met all city requirements for due process.

In like vein, 6th District Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton said that there had been questions in the past to some on the other side about the degree to which the Civic League truly represented neighborhood sentiment. She responded by holding up two manila folders: one containing 515 e-mails opposed to the development; the other, 19 in favor (“and 10 of these were written yesterday,” she added). To cheers, she said that all her City Council colleagues had indicated a willingness to support her preservationist position, including the council president, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Mr. Daue subsequently appeared at least to hint that the BCC might be willing to contemplate park usage after all, saying, "I will extend an invitation to Dr. Spevak to hear RPCL proposal."

D.P. Munro

October 15, 2008

The opinions expressed in the above writing are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or stated policy positions of the Roland Park civic associations.

Crowd warms up outside library.

Approaching the school.

A sea of yellow.

Spevak: A matter of "due process" (video).

Murphy: Roland Park is a "fragile thing" (video).

Rice: Like the Ravens' stadium (video).

Tufaro: "Sell it to us."

Heller: Disappointed in BCC (video).