Tom Obrecht, owner of 16.5 acres on York Road at Fila Way, tried for many years to change the zoning on his land from manufacturing to residential. Rebuffed several times by former Councilman McIntire, he finally achieved his goal in 2012, when Councilman Todd Huff granted his request. Even though more than a thousand people signed a petition opposing the zoning change, Mr. Huff authorized the new DR 10.5 zoning, which permits as many as 172 townhouses on this site.
That zoning change ignored Baltimore County’s Master Plan policy of maintaining its manufacturing sites in order to promote economic growth by providing jobs and contributing revenues to County coffers. Instead, residents will be sending children to over-crowded Sparks school, and requiring services such as trash and snow removal, police, fire and ambulance services. In short, a revenue producer has been converted to a revenue user.
When Obrecht filed a development plan for this site last year, it seemed like a bad development would be a fete accompli. However, by joining with surrounding community members, SGCPC was able to retain legal and professional expertise to scrutinize the plan to see how improvements could be made. Using an equitable solution approach to correct some of the more egregious faults, we believe we made the best out of a bad situation.
Because of these efforts, the townhouses have been moved farther back from York Road, allowing a greater natural buffering of trees and vegetation. This will protect the view from York Road and help to maintain the rural character of the area. In addition, many of the houses that had been oriented with their backs facing York Road have been turned around to face the road. This new design resulted in a reduction of the total number of townhouses in the development from 79 to 73.
Additional modifications to the original plan include landscaping improvements and a commitment to low emission lighting that is compliant with Dark Sky standards.
One of the largest concerns raised by this development is the potential for runoff to contaminate and flood the Western Run River. The steep slopes on this construction site magnify the threat. Broadmead residents, who live downstream of this development site, were particularly concerned about potential flooding, recalling the extensive damage caused by recent storms.
Through negotiations, we were able to see significant improvement to stormwater management. After we asked why stringent state regulations were not being followed, the plans were withdrawn and modified. Now there will be much more sophisticated environmental site design measures installed throughout the development. These measures will allow rain to be absorbed into the ground quickly, before gathering volume and speed and dumping sediment and pollutants into the River.
And wildlife may also benefit. Studies show that fish are threatened when impervious surfaces increase. By implementing measures that allow rainwater to infiltrate into the ground rather than pick up heat and contaminants from the pavement, we are hopeful that trout will continue to survive in Western Run.
It’s hard to claim a victory when a townhouse development has been approved in our rural community. But given the zoning change granted by Mr. Huff, there were limited options for challenges. Because of our involvement, the views, the rural character, and the environmental resources in the area will be better protected, and that’s a good way to define success. Thank you to all our friends who supported this effort—your support paid off!